A film review by Craig J. Koban December 20, 2012
2012, R, 107 mins.
2012, R, 107 mins.
Sarandon / Det. Bryer: Tim
Brooke: Brit Marling /
Julie: Laetitia Casta
is a new Wall Street financial thriller with a character that is an
unmitigated son of a bitch that I somehow developed a misplaced rooting
interest in. The person in
question is a 60-year-old billionaire hedge fund manager that, through the
course of the film, commits moral and ethical criminal acts that hardly
invite our sympathy: he’s an adulterer; a downright liar to all those
around him; perpetrates fraud on a massive, multi-billionaire dollar
scale; and, worst of all, is complicit in the indirect killing of his
mistress. Yet, we
somehow…inexplicably and miraculously…become wholly engaged in this
man’s attempts to get away with it all.
Here’s a guy that is willing to betray everyone close to him to
get off scot-free…and we nonetheless become enraptured with his
labyrinthine steps to achieve just that.
the real underlining power of ARBITRAGE, a universally strong debut film
for director Nicholas Jarecki, who manages to confidently maneuver through
this story’s complex themes and even more complicated main character.
He manages to not only concoct a relatable parable that echoes the
economic woes and anxieties that we all deal with (and the notion that the
wealthy seem to get away with figurative murder in their efforts to get
richer), but he also creates a fascinating and tense character-driver
thriller that does not wallow in giving us black and white protagonists
and antagonists. The rich man
at the heart of all of this film’s massive indiscretions comes off
neither as a hero or a villain, but sort of a conflicted combination of
the two. Like many men that
have committed wrongdoing, he often pleads that it does it for the greater
billionaire in question is Robert Miller (a spot-on cast Richard Gere)
that seemingly has it all: aged good looks, a loving wife, a nurturing and
supportive family, and a job that makes him exceedingly wealthy.
He’s also liked and respected by his work colleagues.
Deep down, though, Robert is a crook.
A damn, dirty crook. He has made a huge investment in a would-be lucrative Russian copper mine that has gone bust,
which he made by secretly injecting capital in it that was not his own.
Now faced with impending economic ruin, Robert decides to
ruthlessly doctor his company’s books to cover the millions he took from
others for the investment and avoid being arrested for massive financial
fraud. Oh, he also wants to
sell his company in the process of all of this without alerting his
malfeasance to his own daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), who is the CEO and
is performing an audit on the books that Robert has already tampered with.
is some piece of work. When he’s not engaging in monetary deception, he’s also
cheating on his wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon) with a cocaine-addicted and
rather clingy artist (Laetitia Casta) who's – day-by-day – growing
increasingly hostile towards Robert that he is not spending more time with
her. One night while driving
with his mistress Robert manages to doze off behind the wheel, which
causes the vehicle flip off the road in a thunderous crash.
Robert is nearly severely injured, but survives; alas, his girlfriend
is instantly killed. He now
finds himself attempting the impossible:
ensure that his wife doesn’t find out; cover up his involvement in the
accident and lead the chief police investigator (Tim Roth) off his tail as
a suspect; and, most crucially, guarantee that investors in his company
that may wish to buy it – as well as his auditing daughter - never
discover any of his deplorable acts.
endlessly will-he-or-won’t-he-be-caught dynamism of ARBITRAGE is
ultimately what makes it such a compulsive watch, not to mention that
witnessing Robert spiral downwards into one inconvenient setback after
another to clear his name is equally gripping.
The jigsaw-puzzle-like nature of his multiple
deceptions-upon-deceptions begins to wear down on Robert, which places him
in a decidedly more vulnerable state as the story progresses.
If matters were not bad enough for him, he even manages to get a
former convict named Jimmy (a fine Nate Parker) – a son of Robert’s
family chauffeur with a questionable past trying to move on – in on his
quest to hide the truth from everyone.
Things get really dicey when Roth’s grizzled police detective
starts to put pressure on poor Jimmy to rat out Robert - whom the cop thinks is
responsible for the mistress' murder, without having concrete proof to
back it up - to save himself from long-term incarceration.
Is there a better actor working today that has never won an Oscar – let alone has never been nominated for one – than Richard Gere? I don’t think so. I find that the 62-year-old actor has become more natural, genuine, and interesting to watch as a performer as he has become older (see his underrated performance in THE HOAX), and it takes a really seasoned actor to become fully immersed in the deeply flawed, multifaceted, and demanding role of Robert. Gere has always been known to easily exude nonchalant charm and an agreeably inviting appeal, which he certainly evokes in Robert. Yet, he also has to relay a Wall Street wolf that will eat his way to the top without any regard to his victims, family or foe alike. Gere has played mostly likeable personas in the movies, but what’s truly intoxicating about his work here is that he still manages to make Robert perversely relatable despite the fact that he’s a stone cold asshole. In an age when Wall Street fraudsters are the new go-to film villains, it’s terrific to see how an actor of Gere’s skills can make more out of a potentially one-dimensional cretin; he’s not been this good in years.
other actors around Gere compliment him nicely.
Roth has played cops before, which is no stretch for him, but he
gives all of his investigator roles a gnarly authenticity that few actors
are able to muster. The naturally beautiful and talented Brit Marling (who
previously starred in and co-wrote last year’s brilliant sci-fi drama ANOTHER
EARTH) is an assured enough actress to hold her own even in heated
confrontational scenes with the more experienced Gere.
Sarandon, in a small, but crucial role as Robert’s wife, has to
outwardly convey a supportive spouse that inwardly suspects something dark
and twisted about her husband. A
climatic scene between Ellen and Robert – as Robert tries to outfox all
of her accusations – is about the finest bit of give-and-take acting
that you’ll see all year.
ARBITRAGE, if anything, can’t be labeled as wholly fresh and original. The notion of upper class/white collar criminals ruining the lives of those beneath them while making more money has been done to death in films as far-ranging as WALL STREET and last year’s terrific MARGIN CALL. There are also times when all the film’s dialogue exchanges about hedge funds, dividends, and most other convoluted financial brokerage terms will leave many viewers – including myself – scratching their heads to keep up. Those are but small gripes, because ARBITRAGE is well oiled, exemplarily paced, and gripping thriller with a Hitchocockian slant that shows a guilty man trying to hide his guilt while the wheels of justice forms a tighter choke hold on him. That, and Gere has a career-best field day here of making his unforgivable economic hustler kind of forgivably identifiable, which is no easy feat for just any actor.