In "Arbitrage," a guilty-pleasure thriller for these tough economic times, greed is good -- at least until it isn't anymore.
Directing his first feature, writer and documentarian Nicholas Jarecki shows great command of tone -- a balance of sex, danger and manipulation with some insiderish business talk and a healthy sprinkling of dark humor to break up the tension. His film is well-cast and strongly acted, and while it couldn't be more relevant, it also recalls the decadence of 1980s Wall Street, shot in 35 mm as it is, with a synth-heavy score from composer Cliff Martinez (who wrote similar music for "Drive").
"Arbitrage" is a lurid look at a lavish lifestyle that allows us to cluck disapprovingly while still vicariously enjoying its luxurious trappings.
Richard Gere stars as Robert Miller, a billionaire hedge-fund magnate who, at the film's start, is magnanimously sharing his wisdom in an interview with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo. As he turns 60, Robert would seem to have it all -- looks, wealth, a loving family and respect among his peers. Yet he always wants more and feels emboldened by the different set of rules and morals that seem to apply in his rarefied world.
So he "borrows" $417 million from a fellow tycoon to cover a hole in his portfolio and make his company look as stable as possible, as it's about to be acquired by a bank. This is otherwise known as fraud. Despite the loyalty and support of his smart, beautiful wife (Susan
Both these schemes explode in his face over the course of a few fateful days. An audit of his firm has raised some red flags, making the potential buyer turn reluctant and evasive. This prompts the suspicions of his devoted daughter (Brit Marling, every bit
That's a lot of plates to keep spinning at once; the financial storyline alone could have sufficed without the affair messing things up further. What's surprising about "Arbitrage" is that Jarecki never judges this man for the tricky position he's gotten himself into, and he never tries to steer our feelings toward him, either. Gere is so charming, so irresistible when he's on top of the world -- when he's got all those plates humming in unison -- that he kind of makes you root for his character to get away with it all. His smooth, placid demeanor is perfect here, which make the few times he does snap seem that much more startling.
The film's strong women don't quite get enough to do until the third act, when Sarandon and Marling both have powerful showdowns with Gere. But the entire supporting cast is well-chosen, down to the actors who appear in just a couple of scenes, like Stuart Margolin as Robert's dryly funny lawyer and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter as the head of the bank that's acquiring Robert's company.
Robert may not learn anything by the end, and teetering on the brink of serious trouble doesn't make him a more decent person; actually, he gets nastier and more demanding as the screws tighten.
As Parker's character puts it: "You think money is gonna fix this?" Robert doesn't miss a beat in responding: "What else is there?"
* * *
Rating: R (for language and violent images)
Cast: Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Running time: 1 hour,