Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Arbitrage

 



ARBITRAGE: Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling (100 min.)

There are two actors out there, two of our better American actors, who can fill out a billionaire's suit in a film better than anyone else.  One is Michael Douglas, who has made his living playing snakes in suits.  The other is Richard Gere, who absolutely owns his latest film Arbitrage from start to finish.  Perhaps it is confidence, or his shifty eyes, or the fact that he is unassumingly handsome; whatever the case, Gere has always felt at home in an Armani power suit.  In Arbitrage he plays an increasingly familiar villain in these modern times, one with a financial background who will do anything in his power to save himself from ruin.  But what makes the film much more intriguing and elevates it to an impeccably-constructed, refreshingly-adult drama is the observation of gray areas.  These sticky situations arise in every facet of the story and keep the screws tightening.

Gere is Robert Miller, a hedge-fund manager with untold amounts of wealth, power, and prestige in the highest circles of Manhattan.  I would imagine Bernie Madoff is, as is the case with all of these films, an inspiration for the Gere character.  I imagine the character as a darker side of Gere's character in Pretty Woman.  Miller loves his business and he loves his family, but his poor decisions have begun to catch up to him as the film opens.  He is attempting to sell his company but has finagled the books, massaged a few things, and wound up with a $400 million discrepancy that could cause the deal to collapse.  His daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), matched in brains and beauty, is the Cheif Accountant for her father's firm and her sharp attention to detail is what catches the illegal activity.

Gere is Robert Miller, a hedge-fund manager with untold amounts of wealth, power, and prestige in the highest circles of Manhattan. I would imagine Bernie Madoff is, as is the case with all of these films, an inspiration for the Gere character. I imagine the character as a darker side of Gere's character in Pretty Woman. Miller loves his business and he loves his family, but his poor decisions have begun to catch up to him as the film opens. He is attempting to sell his company but has finagled the books, massaged a few things, and wound up with a $400 million discrepancy that could cause the deal to collapse. His daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), matched in brains and beauty, is the Cheif Accountant for her father's firm and her sharp attention to detail is what catches the illegal activity.

Meanwhile, Robert is in the midst of a long affair with an artist, Julie (Laetitia Casta), whom his company backed to get her studio off the ground. One night Julie and Robert are in a car accident in her car. She is killed and Robert flees the scene in a panic. Of course, things do not disappear and a dogged detective, Bryer (played by the great Tim Roth) begins digging into the accident and finds himself in Miller's office. Miller's wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon, a little under-utilized here), stays quiet but never seems to not be in the loop. Without ruining the developments of the third act I will just say the plot thickens but not to a point of disaster for the audience. Things stay smart, but easy to follow.

Richard Gere has never gotten the respect of his peers it seems, but with Arbitrage he is able to command the screen unlike he has in the past.  It is a testament to his acting here that no matter how devious Miller becomes throughout the film there is still humanity in his actions.  Somehow he still feel like pulling for the guy.  His verbal sparring with Roth's detective is compelling and tense and director Nicholas Jarecki does some interesting things with body language of the two characters.  Miller is square and as rigid as his surroundings, like everyone orbiting his world of money and power.  Bryer is slouchy, unkempt, his suit doesn't quite fit.  He is ruffling the feathers of the wealthy and you might even suspect he was done wrong by one of these hedger fund bigshots somewhere along the way.

There is wonderful balance between the two conflicts in Miller's life.  We go from the events of the accident and the affair to the company falling apart seamlessly without losing an ounce of tension.  The most emotionally satisfying pairing in the film involves Miller and Jimmy (Nate Parker), a young black kid who finds himself between the truth of what he knows and his understandable loyalty to Robert.  Maybe the final twist of Arbitrage is a bit weak and it lets the story off the hook but there is still plenty to savor here, starting with one of Gere's finest performances of his long career.

A-