Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth
Plot: A troubled hedge fund magnate desperate to complete the sale of his trading empire makes an error that forces him to turn to an unlikely person for help.
Genre: Drama / Thriller
Awards: Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Leading Actor (Drama)
Rating: NC16 for language, brief violent images and drug use.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“You serious? You think money's gonna fix this? Huh?”
Nicholas Jarecki’s first feature film is an assured one. It is by no means extraordinary or a breakthrough of some sort, but it is a confident attempt at a dramatic thriller that works because of an excellent performance by Richard Gere and a plot that is tight and curiously engaging.
Gere plays Robert Miller, a sixtyish proud father of a family. He comes home to a birthday celebration for him and talks about the importance of being with his loved ones. All that is a façade as Robert is having some money problems with his company despite having millions of dollars at his disposal.
Jarecki, who also wrote the screenplay, turns up the heat on Robert as we find out early on that he is having an extramarital affair with someone else. Something terrible happens to Robert at the end of the first act, and it sets into motion a series of events that sees him trying to figure out how to escape from the hole that he has dug for himself.
The hole gets deeper as the film progresses. And this is what makes Arbitrage more riveting than the average thriller. There is a case for fraud and homicide by Robert, but he is not willing to face the consequences of his actions.
Arbitrage deals with themes of power relations and justice. It is an intense drama about moral dilemmas and making hard choices. Robert is essentially the film’s villain as he tries to cover up his mistakes through various means, often with his wealth and power.
But Gere’s magnetic performance, his finest in a long while, makes us sympathize with his character. So in a way, he is like a protagonist-villain, as oxymoronic as it sounds. We are drawn into his scheming plans that affect his work and family relationships, and for some strange reason, we want him to succeed.
Gere is backed up by a strong supporting cast consisting of Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking, 1995) and Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, 1992), who play Robert’s wife and a hard-nosed detective in pursuit of Robert respectively. Brit Marling, a relatively unknown actress in these parts, also catches the eye with her beauty and screen presence. She plays Robert’s daughter, who works in the same company.
In one dramatic scene, Marling confronts Gere with startling intensity. She previously wrote Another Earth (2011), which won a couple of awards at Sundance. Let’s hope she gets a breakout role in a mainstream film in the future as she is a young and promising actress.
Arbitrage is a finely-tuned dramatic thriller that also works in part as a character study of someone who is so desperate to get out of his predicament that he is faced with moral choices. Of course, if you have power, status, and loads of cash, making those choices seem simpler, but ironically and inevitably, these decisions build into something impossibly complex.
Verdict: Richard Gere gives an excellent performance in this intense drama about moral dilemmas and making hard choices.
GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)
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