Smile Politely

Oh how the mighty fall in Arbitrage

Arbitrage, the new film from director Nicholas Jarecki (The Outsider) stars Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, and Brit Marling. In this timely thriller, Robert Miller (Gere), the CEO of a hedge fund, commits fraud in order to make it appear the company is continuing to do well in troubled financial times. This smoke screen is necessary because the fund is up for sale, and neither Miller’s investors nor his daughter (Marling), the company’s CFO, can know about the $400 million in debt that would sink the company, the merger, and his life’s work. Oh, and if that’s not enough plot for you, Miller’s life is complicated further when he accidentally causes the death of his mistress after a particularly difficult workweek.

This film is ultimately about how greed controls Robert Miller and the lengths he will go to protect himself and his image. Britt Marling’s Brooke is the only person who is close to figuring out how much danger the company is in at the hands of her own father, while another kind of investigation attempts to find the truth about the death of Miller’s mistress. It’s easy to see Miller slowly unraveling under the stress of possibly losing all he has built.

Richard Gere is pretty much the only reason this film works. Gere is equipped with ample charm to play someone at once devious and likeable, charismatic and greedy; somehow the more despicable his character becomes, the more you want to see him survive the tragedy unscathed. The only other strength in this film is Brit Marling. Marling’s star has been slowly rising as an actress since her first film Another Earth garnered critical praise in mid-2011. While Brooke is daddy’s little girl, she does hold her own when Miller needs to be confronted with the reality that the lies he told to protect his company will not save them from the awful and inevitable consequences the truth will bring.

The plot involving the death of Miller’s mistress is no small matter either. Tim Roth brings his reliable brand of relentlessness to the role of the detective investigating her death. His Detective Bryer seems intent not just on solving a murder, but on felling a financial giant in order to set the example that the rich aren’t untouchable. Unfortunately, while Bryer’s pursuit of the truth (by going after everyone with whom Miller has any affiliation) manages to introduce us to a few vital characters, it doesn’t help propel the story forward very much in my opinion.

Another problem with this film is that, while a clear resolution is given at the end, the solution to Miller’s problems is so absurdly simple that one cannot help but be frustrated. I found myself wishing that the film ended differently. Given the complicated nature of the story, the moral and legal conundrums, and the strength of the actors involved, I suppose I longed for a more complex — and therefore satisfying — ending. I think audiences will adore seeing Richard Gere in a darker role, and I was glad to see him back on the big screen. I hope he gets many more opportunities to play darker characters.

Arbitrage is a morality tale set in modern times that audiences will likely appreciate should they choose to see it at The Art Theater.  I think the film is a safe bet.

Four Stars

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