The timeless narrative of people who do bad things getting what they deserve has become so entrenched in the way we look at books, movies, television and more. For that reason, many who finish “Arbitrage” will find themselves rather bewildered.
Richard Gere plays millionaire Robert Miller, an extremely successful business person with a loving family who is ready to sell the company and pass control to his daughter (Brit Marling). But just as she starts to sniff some her father’s fraudulent activities, an accident threatens to bring Robert’s world crashing down.
Nicholas Jarecki writes and directs this story of a desperate man’s attempt to do whatever it takes to keep his life and reputation intact in spite of his transgressions, but his rock-solid script also highlights how everyone wrapped into his mess isn’t all that different.
Jarecki does a fantastic job with Gere, creating a character who objectively is a crook, but through the lens of the story is someone we can sympathize with. He just wants to maintain status quo and not see his empire crumble on top of him. The script portrays him as a man who feels he has no choice and does so quite effectively.
Gere hasn’t given that many performances in recent years, but it’s tough to imagine this isn’t one of his better ones since “Chicago.” He doesn’t have many knockout moments, but considering you don’t totally hate this character given the circumstance, he must be doing something right.
Tim Roth does a nice job as a detective on Robert’s tail who is also a bit desperate to bag a man who he knows to be a crook. He starts out as that pesky investigator who finds all the holes in Robert’s alibi, but he struggles to have enough to make an arrest.
The narrative rides on the simple “will he or won’t he?” plot as far as whether Robert gets caught or manages to survive the ordeal. It keeps the film engaging, but Jarecki could’ve done more through the direction to add tension and suspense. “Arbitrage” is definitely missing any kind of distinctive visual style or tone, so a lot hinges on the script to maintain the intensity of the plot. Fortunately, it never drags despite not even coming close to its threshold for excitement.
“Arbitrage” takes a refreshingly gray approach to what for many viewers will be black-and-white issues. The only pure, good character is Marling’s Brooke, the daughter, who wants her father to explain himself, but even she becomes complicit in his deceit after awhile.
We know that in life, the good aren’t always rewarded and the bad punished, but contrary to that reality, that’s how we prefer our movies. Jarecki isn’t afraid to serve us that cold reminder in artistic form and it makes “Arbitrage” a standout.
Written and Directed by Nicholas Jarecki
Starring: Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling