By Michael Calleri
Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon star in "Arbitrage," a solid financial melodrama, which contains within its well-written screenplay, a nifty cat-and-mouse game mouse game involving a persistent New York City detective.
The very well-acted film stars Gere as Robert Miller, an extremely wealthy Manhattan investment broker with a lot of secrets. He's a wizard at manipulating financial information, and he's working on a big deal that will make him even richer. A major problem for Miller is that he's lying about the value of his investment company. He's hiding the fact that he's actually $412-million short of what he's telling a key potential investor there is in his company's accounts. This investor is a little bit mysterious. He keeps missing meetings. He's played by "Vanity Fair" magazine editor Graydon Carter, in a clever cameo role.
A fellow mega-millionaire was willing to lend Miller the $412-million to fill in the gaps, but he's unhappy about the arrangement and wants the money back as soon as the deal is signed. In fact, he wants it back yesterday. But the guy wanting to buy Miller's firm keeps playing games.
Miller has a wife (Sarandon) who is clueless about a lot of things, including her husband’s financial skullduggery. However, she relishes the perks of being astonishingly rich in Manhattan, with its gala charity dinners and glorious shopping opportunities. On the side, Miller has a sometimes-angry mistress (Laetitia Casta), for whom he has purchased an art gallery. And, he has a smart daughter (Brit Marling) who he’s placed high up in his company. However, both women are also clueless about Miller’s shady financial goings-on.
On the surface, Gere's Miller seems cool, calm, and collected. Beneath the mellow exterior lies a volcano of fear. One night, Miller is involved in a late-night automobile accident on a country road that results in the death of his passenger. He worries less about the victim and more about saving his own skin. He can’t afford to have any bad publicity ruin the potential sale of his company. He calls in a young man he knows (Nate Parker) and attempts to sweep the accident under the rug.
All of this is set up very quickly in Nicholas Jarecki’s solid screenplay. The 33-year old Jarecki also directed “Arbitrage,” which is his first feature fiction film. He has previously written and produced some other movies and directed a documentary about filmmaker James Toback. He’s also the author of an interesting book called “Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start.” It’s clear that in “Arbitrage,“ Jarecki has a good handle on his subject matter, understands pacing and tension, and is extremely capable of getting good performances from his cast. There’s a bit of Alfred Hitchcock in the movie. You watch knowing Gere’s Miller is not a nice guy, but you root for him to succeed.
The car crash brings in Tim Roth as Detective Michael Bryer, who begins to investigate Miller’s role and responsibility . Let’s just say that Roth is an engrossing and entertaining combination of two fictional policemen. He’s part Inspector Javert and part Lieutenant Colombo. Roth alone is worth the price of a ticket. But in a picture filled with excellent acting there’s more fine work. Reg E. Cathey, from the HBO series “The Wire,” is outstanding as Miller’s lawyer, a fellow named Earl Monroe. Yes, if you know your New York Knicks’ basketball, you’ll enjoy the inside joke. In the film, attorney Monroe’s elbows are just a sharp as detective Bryer’s.
Because of the financial world depicted in the movie, comparisons might be made to Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” but these comparisons would be superficial and, frankly, irrelevant.
“Arbitrage” has some good twists and turns. There has been some complaining that the ending is confusing, but if you miss the point of the film’s conclusion then you haven’t been paying attention and don’t understand Miller’s world and the cut of his character. Others are also griping that they don’t like the title. I find this particular form of criticism pathetic. You’re not going to see a “title,” you’re going to see a movie.
For the record, the word arbitrage means: “the simultaneous purchase and sale of securities or foreign exchange to profit from price discrepancies.”
“Arbitrage” trades on today’s headlines and succeeds beautifully at what it wants to do. You could invest in a lot worse.