Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Rating R. Running Time: 100 mins.
Stars: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth
We may have read about this guy — a Bernie Madoff-type, big-money kingpin willing to go to any lengths to preserve the illusion that his financial empire isn't built on sand — but in Arbitrage, directed by Nicholas Jarecki, we get inside his head and his heart, which is cold as ice. As we watch investment magnate Robert Miller (played to perfection by Richard Gere) engage in law-bending machinations, we see that while he may be terrified of getting caught, this guy is still arrogant enough to appear calm and carry on.
Miller is on the verge of selling his hedge fund company, and, to cover up a $412 million gap in the books, he's borrowed from another tycoon who now wants his money back. We watch Miller keep up his New York City high-life appearances, trying to stay cool and conniving just long enough to close the deal.
His gorgeous, whip-smart wife, Ellen (sharply portrayed by Susan Sarandon), and his dreamy, idealistic, heir-apparent daughter, Brooke (acting newcomer Brit Marling), seemingly have no clue — or do they?
Then, Miller's problems get even more complicated. His hubris drives him to make a reckless decision to placate his mistress, a young French art dealer played by Laetitia Casta (who recently appeared in War of the Buttons), leading to a deadly car accident that Miller flees. Miller calls in a favor from a kid from Harlem named Jimmy Grant (the talented Nate Parker of The Great Debaters and Red Tails), whose father had links to Miller in the past, but NYPD detective Michael Bryer (Pulp Fiction's Tim Roth) is on to him. Still, Bryer's no match for Ellen.
Yes, this story is familiar. But the dialogue is so authentic and the characters are so richly intriguing that viewers of Arbitrage experience a world they never knew. Production designer Beth Mickle (Drive, It's Kind of a Funny Story) deserves a heap of credit for making each and every scene have the look of dripping wealth. Gere steals the show, but all the actors, perfectly cast, are exquisite. Even real-life Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, in a cameo performance, brings home a surprising plot twist.
In the end, Jarecki makes a powerful case that there are no true innocents in the modern-day high-finance culture, which is why Arbitrage is so emotionally satisfying. We don't just root for the good guys and abhor the bad; we understand fully the complications that money can wreak on us mortals.
If you like Arbitrage, you'll also like these other dramatic flicks about the contemporary big-finance world and, in some cases, its collapse:
The Company Men (2010): A terrific portrait of the personal toll wreaked by the recession, starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Kevin Costner.
Margin Call (2011): 24 hours inside an investment bank on the eve of the financial crisis, with Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci.
Wall Street (1987) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010): Oliver Stone twice makes magic with Michael Douglas playing the conniving "greed is good" character Gordon Gekko.
Up in the Air (2009): Both funny and serious, this film about corporate downsizing fabulously paired George Clooney with Anna Kendrick.
Too Big To Fail (2011): An HBO movie that chronicles the period in 2008 when Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti), Warren Buffett (Edward Asner) and others worked behind the scenes in a bid to save Lehman Brothers and protect the economy.
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