Posted on Monday, January 23rd, 2012 by Germain Lussier
Great art is often derived from tragedy so it makes perfect sense that the economic crisis has been the subject of so many recent movies. Arbitrage, the directorial debut of Nicholas Jarecki, is the latest in a continuing line of films concerning the troubled economy and one of the best yet.
Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, a billionaire CEO who is trying to sell his company. He’s also cheating on his wife (Susan Sarandon), deceiving his co-worker/daughter (Brit Marling), and he eventually gets wrapped up in police investigation run by Tim Roth.
It all sounds so cliche, but Jarecki’s script transcends that by giving his audience real issues to chew on and characters to learn from. Arbitrage had its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and you can read more after the jump.
Arbitrage is at its best when it forces the audience to struggle with a moral dilemma. Most of this is done through Miller who, on the surface, is perfect. He’s wealthy and good looking, with a great job and a better family. Underneath, though, he’s the epitome of what we think of as a slimeball rich guy. When he makes a terrible mistake, he stops at nothing to conceal what he’s done and the film hammers us with his justifications. Was it worth it?
As the plot unfolds, more and more characters are brought into Miller’s ever-growing web of lies and each is saddled with a huge decision. Jarecki confidently adjusts the movie several times to give these characters, and his audience, time to consider their complicated dilemmas. Eventually, one character in particular makes a radical decision that flips the entire movie on its head, but not before we’ve considered all sides of every argument.
Arbitrage also makes the complicated intricacies of finance relatively easy to swallow, which in turn raises the stakes of the plot because we understand how Miller got into deep trouble. The only major issue with the film is that, for a realistic drama, it requires a healthy suspension of disbelief. A few minor, obvious changes early in the plot would have set characters on much easier paths.
Even with that caveat, Arbitrage is a rock solid, entertaining and engaging drama. Gere gives what might be the performance of his career and Roth, as the detective hot on his heels, really chews the scenery. There are certainly issues here, but it’s a very impressive feature debut.
/Film rating: 8 out of 10