Poster for Arbitrage (Photo : Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)
Back in the 1987, Oliver Stone made a film called "Wall Street," a financial thriller about greed and exorbitant wealth. That genre of film has seen its peaks and valleys over the years but is currently on an incline in light of the financial turmoil. Since the recession began a few years ago, audiences have seen such financial thrillers as "Wall Street 2" and "Margin Call." Now comes "Arbitrage" a film that sticks to the financial thriller genre but also aims to be something more.
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The film tells the story of Robert Miller (Richard Gere) who is your typical billionaire hedge fund manager who is trying to sell his company in order to make up for fraud that he has committed on a failed investment. Despite being a professed family man who runs his company with his children, he is having a love affair with an aspiring artist Julie Cote (Laetita Costa). Miller obviously feels a bit uncomfortable with the uncertainty surrounding his company and family's future and decides to run off with Julie one night. However, he dozes off at the wheel and in the ensuing crash kills her. Realizing the trouble he would be getting into with the sale of his company and his own family, he runs away from the scene of the crime and sets in motion the second plotline of the story.
Some may take issue with the fact there are two main narratives that permeate the story. The first is Miller's attempts to sell his company before his family finds out about the fraud. The second is MIller's intents to ward off a pesky detective (Tim Roth) who his hot on his trail regarding the death of Julie. The diverging narratives certainly give the film a double identity as a detective film and financial thriller, but, writer-director Nick Jarecki does an incredible job of balancing the two narratives seamlessly and fluidly. He creates a great number of parallels between characters in the two storylines to emphasize how Robert's professional corruption has also amplified his personal decadence. Jarceki is also able to keep this film from straying into the endless banter that has come to define this genre of film and moves swiftly between scenes without ever missing a beat. The only major misstep Jarecki takes in this writer's opinion is near the end when there is an inevitable desire to bring the two narratives together in a cohesive culmination. Unfortunately, the climax, while appropriate to the story, does feel a bit labored in bring the two stories together and ultimately leaves the viewer with no real payoff. There are also attempts at racial undertones that are slightly forced on the audience by numerous characters. It feels like extra fat that probably work better if it isn't indicated by the script but inferred by the audience.
Richard Gere carries the film with one of the best performances in his solid career. He has the typical Gere charm and charisma, but there is also something quite disturbing and violent about this man. You want to hate Miller for being the corrupt hypocrite who is causing so much pain around him, but you can't help being taken aback by his assuredness, confidence, and even sparse moments of warmth towards his loved ones.
Brit Marling makes brief appearances in the story, but her character Brooke's tragic arc is one of two at the core of the story. Marling is the ideal casting choice for Brooke. She is confident and assured, but also has a frailty and sensitive in her appearance that helps shape Brooke. One particular scene features a confrontation between father and daughter in Central Park in which Brooke asks her father to justify his fraudulent actions to her. It is a battle of wills and while one can't help being convinced by Gere's endearing Robert, Marling's somber disappointment really turns you against him for the first time in the film.
Susan Sarandon plays Miller's wife Ellen and while she is heavily underused here, she makes the most of her big moment near the end of the film. Tim Roth plays Detective Michael Bryer who is on a mission to take down Miller. He is hard-nosed determination makes for a strong opposition to Gere, but the conclusion to his participation in the film feels a bit underwhelming and convenient.
While Brooke is a victim of Robert's financial corruption, Nate Parker's Jimmy Grant is the victim of Robert's manipulations to get away with Julie's death. Nate Parker is a star on the rise and is especially endearing in his loyalty and solidarity to Robert despite his own desires.
The visuals certainly counterpoint the external charm of Robert with his inner depravity as cinematographer Yorick Le Saux combines the polish of New York's financial district with some more raw and gritty images of less opulent locales.
The film's finale will be unsatisfying to some as the two diverging plots never really unite satisfactorily, but the film is a thrill ride from start to finish that will have you fully engaged. The triumphant performance by Richard Gere and the supporting cast only furthers the experience.
The film is currently playing in select theaters and is available on Video on Demand. Rental downloads are also avaialble through iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.
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