The early scenes of Arbitrage have some of the same high-finance vertigo of Margin Call or Bonfire of the Vanities. But here we have an overlay of another crime superimposed on financial fraud and wonder what, if any, consequences will follow.
In this implosive thriller Richard Gere plays investment mogul Robert Miller, the suave, arrogant superego, a “master of the universe” in the Gilded Age of arbitrage and hedge funds. He is the icon of the one-percent, a silver fox who charms, cheats, and gloats in his malfeasance. Until he can’t.
Wealth creates the rules and decides who gets to play the game. And Robert Miller is at the top. Celebrating his 60th birthday with his beautiful and elegant wife (Susan Sarandon in a subtle but magnetic role), their two adult children and grandchildren, Miller has a secret life. His wife longs for a closer relationship, not so focused on money. In a digression from the Bernie Madoff model, it is the daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) –not the son– who is the wunderkind and heir-apparent to her father’s hedge-fund empire. And she must struggle with her father’s legacy.
Living in a temple of luxury, the Miller family’s protective cocoon isolates them from a world outside and from each other. Just as we’re settling in and squirming, watching the dynamic between financial pillage and spillage into family matters, the film takes another direction. Police become involved: one in particular–Michael Bryer (played impeccably by Tim Roth), an unassuming Columbo. And the issues of race and class collide: a trajectory moving precipitously to harm Jimmy Grant, a Harlem youth (the gifted Nate Parker) caught in a web of deceit. We witness unrelenting evil and an underlying fear of capture, committed in the pursuit of money and glory in which no one is spared.
This is a morality tale–a tale of hell in a financial guise, well told, where morality and selfishness battle, never descending to bland and predictable. Gere gives us a window into the soul of a man who has lost his way. Sarandon knows the price she and her children have paid. I am not a huge Richard Gere fan. But I have to admit that Gere is made to play this slime-ball role. Think “Internal Affairs” or “The Hoax”. No one can do it better…or almost no one. His toxic appeal in “Arbitrage” is unnerving.
A directorial debut by the startlingly restrained Nicholas Jarecki (the son of two commodities traders), Jarecki captures the gleaming seduction of Wall Street. He knows the territory. This cinematic thriller is original and delectable to watch, for those of us who love the dark side!