(2012, US, d. Nicholas Jarecki)
Arbitrage isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. A thriller set in the financial world of Wall Street, it follows billionaire Robert Miller as he tries to sell his hedge fund for a major profit. However, one mistake in his personal life and everything starts to fall apart. When Miller is driving in the middle of the night with the woman he’s having an affair with, he closes his eyes for a split second and loses control of his car. The resulting accident leaves the woman dead, and Miller, far more concerned about closing the deal at work, is worried the purchase won’t occur if he’s linked to a crime. So he begins making calls.
The film concerns itself with Miller’s many attempts to hide the truth, while on the precipice of selling his company. Arbitrage begins with Miller coming home to a family birthday dinner after a long day of work. While speaking to his family, he announces that it’s taken 60 years for him to realize what’s really important in life: the people around him. He seems genuine when he says it, but I guess that’s what happens when lying is just part of your profession. It’s never clear whether anyone at the table actually believes those words – maybe it’s just Miller convincing himself that his family is loved and taken care of. But the plot that soon follows this scene demonstrates just how insincere he was.
Arbitrage is much less of a thriller than it is a character study. Miller’s hedge fund is also operated by his family: his daughter (the talented Brit Marling) plays a huge role and even his less talented son has a solid career laid out for him. This is an easy way for director Nicholas Jarecki to infuse the message of the film here. With his own career, Miller is forced to choose between family and profit, often with interesting results.
The film reminds me a lot of last year’s Margin Call – a quiet thriller set amidst the 2008 housing market crash. I wasn’t as big of a fan of that film as the critics were, but what I thought really made this film stand out was that it was about one man. In Margin Call, we never got close to too many people – because in the brief time we were introduced to them, each of them was making morally ambiguous choices on a grand scale. In Arbitrage, we meet one man. And even though he makes the same choices as his counterparts, we’re able to sympathize with him.
This, in large part, is due to Richard Gere. Gere, in one of his best performances of his career, is less of the best actor to play the part than he is simply perfectly cast. His cool, collected self is the perfect matte to throw the film’s chaos at. He’s easily believable as a guy who we all love or love to hate – but more importantly, the way Gere is able to track his character’s downfall is impressive. Miller isn’t the guy to wear his heart on his sleeve, yet Gere – rarely relying on dialogue – is able to convey a strong sense of character simply through his eyes. During the climax of the film, look at his face and you’ll finally get a true sense of what the man has sacrificed to get into the position he’s in by the end. Whatever that position may be.
Arbitrage‘s biggest fault lies in the pacing of its first act. The film takes 30 minutes to get into the plot and none of the information I was being given felt strong enough or relevant enough to carry us through that time. It’s easy to get turned off here, but if you’re willing to stick through it, Arbitrage proves to be a very intelligent and calculated – albeit anything but novel – adult drama.