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There’s a lot that looks familiar about the new white collar thriller, Arbitrage. Richard Gere sports the same shock of white hair and MBA elitism he did in Pretty Woman and Primal Fear. The movie also echoes recent rich man’s world movies like Michael Clayton and Solitary Man. Yes, we know these men. The better they dress, the worse their misdeeds are.
But there is also something fresh in Nicholas Jarecki’s new film, starring Richard Gere as Robert Miller, a modern-day answer to Gordon Gekko in this Post-Wall Street world. It isn’t that this slick venture capitalist has more scruples than his counterpart. It’s just that everyone around him toes the line between good and bad, right and wrong as well.
How does Miller err? Let us count the ways. When we meet him, he leaves his own birthday bash at the Gramercy Park home he shares with society wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and CFO daughter Brooke (Brit Marling of Another Earth) early to meet up with his French gallerist mistress, Julie (model Laetitia Casta). Sure, that’s bad, but a car accident threatens to make the whole situation far worse, and also provides far too great a distraction for the other big problem at hand. Miller has been covering up the money his company has been hemorrhaging, banking on a sale to come through so he can recoup his lost earnings.
Yes, Miller has many people answering to him and for him, yet he has found a way to cover just about all of his tracks. There’s no intimacy with him; just a question of whether there are more or less layers of a self-imposed cocoon to try to peel. One of the attributes of Gere’s performance is how convincingly strong he makes Miller’s outer shield – his long, tough stares and his steel eyes buttressing a growing intolerance for everything around him. Maybe even himself, too. We never see Miller seethe or panic, but he can make us feel the worry going on within Miller. There is movement even in his utter stillness.
And his gravitas is necessary for Arbitrage to work as the drama it is intended to be. Jarecki’s plot may recall the real-life tragedy of Bernie Madoff’s mess, but it can feel comically convenient at times, particularly as cynical police detective Bryer (Tim Roth), homes in on Miller. He, too, deals in his own brand of corruption. And Ellen harbors secrets of her own. In this world, everyone is up to something. Though Marling’s semi-naïve act feels believable, neither Roth nor Sarandon have ample material to make their characters feel whole. The deck is stacked for Miller; if he wins our sympathy, he does so by default.
What Arbitrage excels at, without question, is providing an inside look at the world of privilege. Even Vanity Fair editor and Manhattan power player Graydon Carter has a small role in the film. As beautifully filmed by director of photography Yorick Le Saux, its depictions of the finest clothes, cars, homes and even art (including pieces from Fernando Botero and Brice Marden) make a convincing case of just how easily the scent of money can re-orient one’s moral compass. Arbitrage isn’t a perfect movie, but Jarecki is heading in the right direction.