Mark Reviews Movies

Arbitrage

ARBITRAGE

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Nicholas Jarecki

Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker, Laetitia Casta, Stuart Margolin

MPAA Rating: R (for language, brief violent images and drug use)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 9/14/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 13, 2012

The tension of Arbitrage exists not on screen but within us. It's the battle between our desire to see how long Robert Miller (Richard Gere) can juggle all of his lies and our hope that they all will come crashing down on his conniving, corrupt, and cowardly self. If not for Gere, whose ever-wearying performance suggests a man who is as fed up with himself as we are of him, this could have a very different movie—one that could have us wishing for the man's downfall to arrive much sooner and contain a heavier punch.

As such, though, Gere's Miller is a man who recognizes that his life has not meant much of anything until the point where writer/director Nicholas Jarecki finds him. Miller has made a career and no small fortune starting and running an investment company, leaving his family to endure his absence because of long hours and his preoccupation with business matters. One could make the argument that the film is a tragedy, and if that is the case, Miller's tragic flaw is that he has deluded himself that, after decades of looking out only for own self-interest, he can change his behavior and the primary focus of his life.

Fate, as it usually does, has other things in mind for Miller. On his 60th birthday, the businessman is ready to retire and spend more time with his family. At his birthday dinner—for which he is late—he tells them that they are what really matters in his life. When he reveals his retirement plans to his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), who is also an executive at her father's company, she can only laugh and say that she has no idea what they would actually do together given the chance. It's not so much a case of love lost between Miller and his family as it is a matter of wondering if there was ever much love there in the first place.

His wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) has become engrossed in the company's charitable arm, while Miller has taken to his own charity case: a French gallery owner named Julie (Laetitia Casta). The two have been having an affair for a while. He buys paintings when her shows inevitably fall short, and his company even finances her living expenses. Julie wants Miller to leave his wife so that they can start a life together.

Whatever Miller's actual intentions are remains unclear; the important thing, it seems, is that he simply wants the freedom to be able to choose some life outside of his business concerns without the judgment of prying eyes. They are especially prying now, as Miller's exit strategy from his company involves selling it to another hedge fund manager. Miller has reason to worry, too: His company is in debt. He's taken a loan from an associate to cover the over $400-million gap and cooked the books to hide it.

This is not the only potential legal trouble Miller faces. After a disastrous car accident, Miller flees the scene, leaving behind a dead body. He calls Jimmy (Nate Parker), the son of an old business partner, to pick him up and bring him home, all the while trying to cover his and Jimmy's tracks.

What's striking about Miller in the aftermath is his complete lack of guilt. There is no sign of remorse over the loss of life (save for the moment he realizes what has happened), only the instincts for self-preservation that have turned him into a phony success. His primary emotion is fear—fear of being caught. He needs to conceal his involvement in the accident because it will only put the sale of his company in danger.  Whatever fable he has told himself about becoming more involved in the lives of others (Given everything we know about him, this is probably a lie, too) will have to wait until he can clean up these messes.

The cover-up follows two threads. The first, more familiar one involves Miller trying to fool a determined detective named Bryer (Tim Roth, whose sturdy, no-nonsense performance is sadly underutilized), who seems to have a personal vendetta against Miller (Nothing comes of that; it's more a generalized frustration about the ease with which the wealthy can get out of trouble). Bryer slowly but surely picks apart at Miller and Jimmy's respective stories and makes liberal use of the tools at his disposal. His opponent is no slouch, and Miller has plenty of his own ways to hold Bryer at bay. Above all is his ability to keep those around him either ignorant of his actions (sometimes willfully) or pay off those who might cause trouble.

The second, more interesting thread follows Miller's awkward attempts to maintain some semblance of humanity despite possessing a sizeable deficit thereof. He only sees relationships in terms of influence. He knows Jimmy owes him for paying the young man's father's medical bills, but he has no grasp of any motivation Jimmy might have outside of money. It's simply a transaction for Miller (When Jimmy is skeptical about money fixing the businessman's problems, Miller answers, "What else is there?"). Then there's an extended sequence in which his daughter confronts Miller about his financial deception. She speaks to him like a daughter; he talks to her no differently than when he's trying to negotiate the sale of his company.

The only pause in the assessment of the story of Arbitrage as a tragic one comes from the lack of genuine sympathy for the protagonist and, hence, the necessary catharsis (The final punishment is too subdued and ironic for that, as well). That, though, does not diminish the film's effectiveness as a cynical character study.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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