Movie Review: Arbitrage
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki's feature debut, "Arbitrage," builds on the Wall Street Guys Acting Badly theme seen in films during the past few years by adding an unexpected layer of moral complexity and intrigue.
The dual story lines in the thriller make for compelling drama, and Richard Gere's cool lead performance adds to the burn of the story's mounting anxieties. But the movie itself offers little solace or justice.
Millionaire investment guru Richard Miller (Gere) soars through the sky in his private jet, holding business meetings miles above the masses. Back on the ground, he is equally removed from the banalities of everyday life. He travels with ease through New York traffic and glides through his marbled office like a king. The high-rise condominium he shares with his wife feels like a palace in the sky, pristine and elegant.
Though everything appears intact and flawless, like Miller's calm, handsome face, the hedge fund guru is battling serious internal strife. In an attempt to sell his company for an obscene fortune, Miller has borrowed more than $400 million from a fellow one-percenter to cover a sizable and self-inflicted hole in his cooked books.
If the feds, or the potential purchaser of his company, discover Miller's obfuscation, everything the magnate has worked for will be lost.
But Miller has such extreme confidence that he rarely shows his fear, an irony that helps build the intrigue. A man accustomed to engineering favorable outcomes for himself and his business, Miller carries himself with an almost preternatural grace, working his way through parties and business meetings without so much as a batted lash. He actually appears to believe the half-truths he has created.
Of course, men like Miller don't limit their high-risk behavior to the boardroom. The debonair ladies' man keeps a mistress across town, a mercurial French-born artist named Julie (a one-note Laetitia Casta,) who makes increasing demands on Miller's time.
As Miller bounces from wife to mistress and lie to lie in the workplace, Jarecki builds an unsettling tension that portends collapse. But Miller seems to have an answer to every problem.
The juggling act grows much more complicated when a shocking accident leaves Miller scrambling to cover up more than his white-collar crime. Though he can undoubtedly master his own financial universe, a twist leaves him with blood on his hands, and he must scramble to stay one step ahead of those who could derail his business dealings and take away his freedom.
Relying on the young son (Nate Parker, who starred in Denzel Washington's "The Great Debaters") of a deceased former employee to help him evade the law after his accidental crime, Miller begins to implicate too many people in his lies.
Among them is his dutiful daughter, Brooke, (a rigid Brit Marling), who discovers her father's business improprieties. And though she has given her husband taciturn approval to engage in nefarious personal and business behavior, Miller's wife (a sympathetic Susan Sarandon) eventually boils over with indignation.
As the deadline for the sale of his business approaches and the veil of secrecy surrounding his misconduct slowly parts, Miller must avoid indefatigable police detective Michael Bryer (a rough-hewn and antagonistic Tim Roth), an NYPD veteran who would like nothing more than to see a Wall Street fat cat finally brought to justice.
Gere brings a disturbing blend of steeliness and charm to this constrained character. Seemingly untroubled by the damage his selfishness may wreak on everyone around him, Miller shows no more empathy than a sociopath.
With his burrowed eyes, perfect hair and flawless wardrobe, Gere brims with a regal air and unsettling chilliness in his best role in more than a decade. Sarandon does not get enough room to stretch out in her role, and the movie could have benefited from a more thorough examination of the couple's complicated relationship. Instead, we get a little too much sermonizing about the inequities of the caste system in America.
Roth brings a frothy energy to his aggressive police officer, but when he chooses to circumvent the system to exact his own justice, we are left with nobody to root for.
We don't want to throw our support behind Miller, and it's hard to cheer for a crooked policeman. The most we can hope for is that the unwitting accomplices to Miller's crimes escape with enough energy and resolve to remake their own lives outside Miller's hungry shadow.
Contact Matthew Odam at 912-5986. Twitter: @Odam
Rating: R for language, brief violent images and drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Theaters: Alamo Slaughtter, Alamo South, the Domain.