Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: "Arbitrage"

Forgive me, I have had a cold the entire month of October.

I cannot say that I understand the term arbitrage - which I had never heard of prior to seeing Arbitrage - to any degree after having seen the film. Wikipedia tells me that it is a financial term relating to a price difference between two or more markets. Finance and economics may be beyond my limited scope of knowledge, but I do know that Richard Gere is absolutely astounding in the role of Robert Miller. Gere is an under-appreciated actor who has spent the bulk of his career taking starring roles in flash adult dramas. He was fantastic in Chicago (2002) and sublime in Primal Fear (1996), but it is his role in Pretty Woman (1990) that will forever be remembered. These four roles all have something in common: successful (read: rich) businessmen. I see Arbitrage's Robert Miller as a more seasoned and disillusioned version of Pretty Woman's Edward Lewis. Unfortunately, there are no parallels between Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts! Arbitrage, the first feature film by Nicholas Jarecki, highlights the power of money. Those who can afford to get into trouble can also afford to get away with murder. Gere is such a dynamic and self-assured actor that he creates a character so provocative and bewildering that I was left astonished and spellbound by his performance. It is a shame that Tim Roth (as the detective on his tail), Susan Sarandon (his wife) and Brit Marling (his naive daughter) are never able to reach his level. Arbitrage is thrilling and deliciously frustrating, but it is also a showcase for Richard Gere and he rises to the challenge. 

Robet Miller (Gere), a sixty year old hedge fund manager, has used some creative accounting to cover a $400 million investment loss. To escape jail, he cooked the books, and kept his daughter (and employee) Brooke (Marling) in the dark. Robert is in the midst of trying to sell his company, and he does not want the potential buyer to discover this. He has also been having an affair with Julie (Laetitia Casta), a gallery owner. He tells his wife Ellen (Sarandon) that Julie is just a business investment - he invests heavily in her gallery - but Ellen is too smart for his lies. Not only does Robert finance her gallery, her apartment is financed through his company. One evening, late at night, Robert and Julie are involved in a terrible car accident. Robert falls asleep at the wheel, and while he survives with some injuries, Julie is dead. To avoid anyone finding out about his involvement with Julie, he flees the scene. Robert calls the only man he thinks he can trust and hopes that the ensuing police investigation will keep him out of the spotlight. 

As I review and digest Arbitrage, I am struck by some comparisons to Woody Allen's Match Point. A seemingly well to do man commits a heinous act and he is able to evade police due to his power and influence. I can only imagine what Match Point would have been if Jonathan Rhys Meyers had given a performance as equally conflicted as Richard Gere. As we try to bounce back after the global recession that began in 2009, the themes in Arbitrage are even more disturbing. How do we allow money and power to control us in such alarming ways? Even as I continue to watch Downton Abbey, set prior to the Great Depression in the early 1920s (Series 3), money and power still had a stranglehold on society. Is it even possible for this to change? As a culture, we have a fascination with money and celebrity. Arbirtage shows us just how much power we give to those with money. It is unsettling.

My rating: 3.75 stars out of 4. 

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