Ever since Bernie Madoff and the financial meltdown it’s fashionable to dislike the Wall Street uber-rich. In Arbitrage, Richard Gere’s portrayal of hedge-fund manager Robert Miller ushers in the next level; despising them. As the picture opens Miller is reflecting on his third stage of life and is looking to get out of business and “spend more time with his family.” The big problem is he’s spent 60 years getting himself in too deep to make a graceful exit.
I originally put Arbitrage on my must see list of films for the season based on what I had read about the picture, Gere’s performance, and the subject matter. It was a bet on an independent film by a director (Nicholas Jarecki) who was on his first feature film. I was half right. The film tries to be a thriller and a social statement but ends up as an interesting story about the bad things people do.
This is Gere’s film and he owns it. He occupies 75% of the frames, speaks at least half the lines in the screenplay and carries it off wonderfully on his slight frame and gray mane. Miller always expects the world to bend to his will, mostly because it has. He strikes grand bargains and usually wins. But now he has made a tragic miscalculation by investing in a copper mine in Russia where unpredictable politics has frozen his money. He still wants out of the day to day so he has to do some creative clerical work to pass an audit in order to be acquired by an ailing Standard Bank.
Miller has a large family around him as often as he can. A daughter and son, both who work for him, grandchildren and naturally his wife, Ellen Miller (Susan Sarandon). It seems well balanced but that’s only a skin deep illusion. Miller is constantly telling everyone that people count on him. That if doesn’t do what he knows he must do people will get hurt. He’s completely blind to the fact that he causes casualties on a daily basis. Of course he has a mistress on the side, Julie Côte (Laetitia Casta) a French art student that has aspirations of starting her own gallery. Miller sets her up with an apartment and buys lots of paintings and spends evenings with her. His excessiveness and age suddenly catch up with him.
It’s a long set-up before we get to the crucial events that propel the film forward into a thriller involving crooked Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) investigating a death he doesn’t really care about. Detective Bryer has had it with these rich types always beating justice and so Mr. Jarecki brings him down to Miller’s level. No high roads here. Miller keeps his cool and enlists trusted advisors to help him brainstorm himself out of some serious trouble.
No we don’t like Robert Miller and are rooting for him to be locked under the jail. But Gere keeps us on his side throughout the picture. We secretly hope he gets out of trouble because we love to see that look on his face when he knows he has the answer. It’s success and power and we all want to understand what that feels like.
So many victims, suffering, betrayal and blackmail (pardon me, negotiating). I believe that’s why the film doesn’t have an ending. Mr. Jarecki simply turns off the camera. We all avert our eyes to the things we can’t control and don’t want to see.
Technical aspects are professional but not extraordinary. Score by Cliff Martinez is moody and electronic. At first I thought it wasn’t a fit, but repeated listenings got me more comfortable. We also get to hear Bjork sing I See Who You Are. Yes we do.
The official web site for the film is not worth visiting.
Nomination: Golden Globes: Richard Gere, Best performance by an actor in a drama
Winner: National Board of Review, USA: Top Ten Independent Films
Photo Credit: LionsGate plus all the others.