A troubled hedge fund magnate (Richard Gere) desperate to complete the sale of his trading empire makes an error that forces him to turn to an unlikely person for help.
Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki's debut feature operates on two levels, separated by a yawning gap in quality and credibility.
a companion piece to Margin Call, although not quite as compelling.
At the upper level, Arbitrage works efficiently as a tense thriller set in the world of high finance in the wake of the GFC, a companion piece to Margin Call, although not quite as compelling.
At the lower level, the narrative trundles along as a clichéd melodrama in which the protagonist tries to cover up his involvement in the death of his mistress.
Richard Gere is tailor-made for the role of Robert Miller, a billionaire New York financier in the mould of a Bernie Madoff. On the surface Miller is charming, urbane, a devoted husband and father, a philanthropist and a self-styled investment 'oracle" whose face adorns the cover of Forbes magazine. At 60 he seems to have it all, and then some. Beneath the mask he’s a liar and a fraud who’s driven by greed, ego and a lust for power.
Miller’s façade starts to crumble after he loses $400 million in a copper mine in Russia and the investor who loaned him the money demands to be repaid, imperilling a deal that Miller is negotiating to sell his company to a competitor.
Susan Sarandon plays his seemingly loyal and supportive wife Ellen, who turns a blind eye to her husband’s peccadillos. Brit Marling is their daughter Brooke, who serves as his chief investment officer.
Miller’s much younger mistress is Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta), a French hottie who has opened an art gallery with his financial help. In another cliché, she sticks by her lover although he often neglects her and she realises he will never leave his wife.
Late one night Miller and Julie are driving off to the country when he nods off, the car crashes and flips over, and she’s killed. He’s injured but walks away and uses a pay phone to call Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a black teenager whose late father worked for Miller.
Jimmy picks him up and takes him back to Manhattan, thus becoming an accessory to a crime. Thereafter the plot follows a predictable course as the cops led by swaggering, wily, rule-bending Detective Bryer (Tim Roth, overdoing the Noo York accent) track down Jimmy and eventually Miller. Just why Bryer is so manic in his pursuit of Miller isn’t explained.
Meanwhile smarty pants Brooke discovers her father has cooked the books, a deceitful
act that sparks two crisply written and expertly acted confrontations with Gere.
Jarecki, an emerging talent at 25, directed the 2005 documentary The Outsider, which followed director James Toback on the 12-day shoot of his thriller When Will I Be Loved. He’s on much surer ground in focusing on the financial shenanigans and the shifting Miller family dynamics than in dwelling on the police investigation.
As the anti-hero, Gere manages to make an immoral and duplicitous huckster who has few redeeming qualities never less than interesting. There is a certain Schadenfreude in waiting for a heartless bastard to get his comeuppance, although some viewers may find the ending a trifle contrived.
Parker is impressive as a brash, working-class kid who has an innate sense of what’s right but is tempted by Miller’s entreaties. The script doesn’t give Sarandon a lot of leeway to display her considerable talents.
Stuart Margolin is superb as Miller’s weary attorney but some of the other supporting actors deliver forgettable, insipid performances. The worst is Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who’s utterly unconvincing as the mogul who’s negotiating to acquire Miller’s corporation.