Supremely realistic though Arbitrage is meant to be, there is a magical twist in Richard Gere’s performance as Robert Miller, a hedge fund manager trying to save his company and his personal life. Gere evokes such sympathy that you’re likely to root for him even though he is cheating his business partners, cheating on his wife, and before long trying to cover up his complicity in an even higher-stakes crime. A less intelligent screenplay and performance would have given us a demonized tycoon – Bernie Madoff as Satan — who gets the comeuppance he deserves. Arbitrage is far more satisfying, because it creates a fully-realized character who knows his behavior is wrong, believes he’s justified anyway, and is hugely entertaining to watch as he tries to get away with it all.
Gere, who pulls off a subtle, layered performance, has become a more charming-on-screen presence as he has aged; the smugness of his youth vanished a while ago. And he is helped by the way this shrewd film, written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, tells the story largely from his character’s point of view. We grasp that Robert is trying to put things right and that he accidentally became involved in the latest drama that threatens to bring him down – and, yes, he’s being monstrously selfish but who wouldn’t be in his position?
The film doesn’t excuse Robert’s corruption, but it seduces us into his glossy world of designer apartments and beautiful people. The terrific supporting cast includes Susan Sarandon as his long-married wife, more knowing and in the end tougher than she lets on. Brit Marling play their daughter, an executive in Dad’s company who is in the perfect position to uncover the sham financial information her father has put on the books to dupe a potential buyer into thinking the company is solvent.
Jarecki effectively creates suspense, as the evidence of Robert’s many deceits creep closer and closer, and he has to find more and more desperately clever ways to evade them. Tim Roth plays a dogged, rumpled detective determined to prove what he instinctively knows about Robert, and while Roth is always fun to watch, his character seems to have wandered into the screenplay from a more cliched film. There are other lapses, including some clunky lines. Maybe no one can pull off dialogue like, “I am the patriarch!” But Gere is so convincing in general that it hardly matters.
Just so we’re clear about all those Jareckis: Nicholas is the brother of Eugene, director of the documentaries Why We Fight and the upcoming The House I Live In. Their brother Andrew made Capturing the Friedmans. Two filmmaking brothers are a coincidence. Three is a dynasty.
Here’s the trailer, but — fair warning — I think it gives away far too much.