“ARBITRAGE” My rating: B (Now playing wide)
100 minutes | MPAA rating: R
In economics, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets, creating a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices.
Financial whiz Robert Miller, portrayed with great relish and considerable subtlety by Richard Gere in the new thriller “Arbitrage,” extends that concept to his daily life, which is compartmentalized into different markets…one for family, one for romance, and several for his business.
When we first encounter Miller he’s on a private plane returning from a meeting with a fellow financial heavy hitter who wants to buy Miller’s company. In Gere’s hands Miller seems the perfect CEO — calm, controlled, yet somehow passionate about the business. He handsome, he’s funny. He seems very, very smart.
This, you think, is a guy you could trust with your money.
Later that night in his palatial East Side apartment, Miller is the guest of honor at a birthday party thrown by his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon), his children and grandchildren. Among them is his daughter Brooke (indie “it” girl Brit Marling), who also serves as his No. 2 at work.
He basks in the glow of all this familial affection and then, claiming he needs to work late, Miller zips down to SoHo to spend the rest of the evening with Julie (Laetitia Casta), the hot little French wannabe artist.
Turns out Miller doesn’t cheat just on the Missus. Because of a major bad investment his firm is $400 million in the hole. He has borrowed that much from a fellow moneybags in order to cover the loss and has cooked the books so that prospective buyers won’t be spooked.
But unless he finds a buyer soon, the secret will be out and Robert Miller will be looking at jail time.
As it turns out, financial shenanigans are just one of Miller’s dark skills. When he becomes involved in a case of vehicular homicide, Miller finds himself being dogged by a police detective (Tim Roth) with no sympathy for Wall Street types. His answer is to set up the son (Nate Grant) of a former employee to take the fall.
The key to writer/director Nicholas Jarecki’s first feature is its tension between our abhorrence at Miller’s duplicity and the way the nervy plot makes us root for him to find a way out of this dilemma. It’s kind of like a mashup of “Margin Call” and “No Way Out.”
Whether or not he ends up facing time, our protagonist’s double dealing will end up costing him dearly in the family department, alienating most of his near and dear (the Bernie Madoff saga must have been fresh in Jarecki’s mind when he wrote this).
Not only does “Arbitrage” do a fine job of shredding our nerves, it gives us a very solid character study of a man who has been so rich for so long that he’s utterly out of touch with life as it is lived by most of us.
Gere’s Miller is the kind of guy who only turns on the TV to watch the financial news. When a young friend announces he’s buying an Appleby’s franchise, Miller draws a blank. What, he wants to know, is an Appleby’s?
(You must remember, Miller’s daily restaurant tab approaches four figures. And the timing for “Arbitrage” could hardly be better, coming as it does in the same week that Mitt Romney declares that people earning $250,000 a year are “middle income.”)And above all else, Robert Miller feels entitled. He doesn’t answer to the same watered-down morality as the rest of us peons.
With this attitude we ought to hate the guy. But as I mentioned before, Gere exudes enough charisma that we find ourselves — if not precisely rooting for Miller — fascinated by his survival instincts. We’d like to see him live to cheat another day.
| Robert W. Butler