If you look at Richard Gere’s body of work, it appears he should be on movie screens constantly. A film or two every year, an I’m Not There slipped in between every couple of Unfaithfuls. But Gere still gives the impression, somehow, of popping up every so often, not remaining constantly visible, not sustaining a movie star presence. And when was the last time Gere actually impressed you?
He’ll likely do that with Arbitrage, a succinct film that’s part thriller, part character piece and part vicious little fable of American power. Gere, melting into his character, plays Robert Miller, who has one of those financial jobs that make absolutely no sense to those of us who don’t play financial games. Hedge funds, markets, copper mines; he takes bets, plays risks and things pay off — or don’t. His life is shiny and elegant, from his tailored suits to his pristine New York City home to his sultry mistress, a French gallerist named Julie (Laetitia Casta).
Poor Julie draws the short straw in the film, standing in for all the artists and creative types whose lives and work are just more baubles for the bankers, the power players, the game changers. Robert will never leave his wife, Ellen (played with earthy confidence by Susan Sarandon), and Julie knows it, but he funds her gallery and makes promises, and she goes along with him, hoping it will all turn out in the end. What turns out instead is a disaster, a nasty accident from which only Robert walks away.
Arbitrage’s plot neatly reels in Jimmy (Nate Parker), whose father worked for Robert; Detective Bryer (Tim Roth), a working-class fellow with a chip on his shoulder where the wealthy bastards of New York are concerned; and Brooke (Brit Marling), Robert’s daughter and colleague, who uncovers a string of worrisome numbers in her father’s company’s records. Sarandon’s Ellen hovers around the edges, unseen for long stretches but never out of mind. To writer-director Nicholas Jarecki’s credit, his film focuses on Robert without doing so at the expense of the other characters, whose morals, histories and dreams are just as relevant to the story as Robert’s.
Robert, however, is oblivious. Arbitrage never demonizes its protagonist, but teases out the ways in which a man can convince himself that his choices are the right ones, the only ones, even as they stain everyone, the effects of his decisions rippling outward as he sinks. Robert’s talent for rationalization is astounding, second only to his talent for playing the financial game, but his growing desperation knocks everything out of place. Pointed but not polemical, Jarecki’s allegorical film moves along steadily, buoyed by an eerie and modern score, as it traces the fault lines of one man’s delusions.
ARBITRAGE: Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. Cinematography, Yorick Le Saux. Editing, Douglas Crise. Music, Cliff Martinez. Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth, Nate Parker and Laetitia Casta. Lionsgate, 2012. R. 107 minutes. Three and a half stars.