'Arbitrage': Sympathetic view of a dishonest man

Richard Gere (right) cheats on his wife with mistress Laetitia Casta (left).
Richard Gere (right) cheats on his wife with mistress Laetitia Casta (left).
Posted: September 14, 2012

WALL STREET no doubt believes it will never get an understanding ear in Hollywood, but recent history says otherwise.

The post-meltdown dramas "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps," "Margin Call" and "Arbitrage," for instance, have something in common: are all directed by men who grew up in Wall Street families.

Oliver Stone, J.C. Chandor, and now Nicholas Jarecki, whose "Arbitrage" is an unexpectedly sympathetic portrait of a big-shot financier (Richard Gere) trying to conceal crimes both personal and professional.

Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge-fund titan trying to hide a catastrophic investment loss by arranging a quick sale of his company, using the profits to reconcile his crooked accounting.

He's no more ethical at home - at night he kisses his wife (Susan Sarandon) good night, walks downstairs for a snack, and keeps walking until he ends up at the downtown loft of his Euro-mistress.

One of the subjects of "Arbitrage" is Miller's entitled belief in his own invulnerability. He behaves as though his money and power insulate him from misfortune, because it always has. That arrogance is tested when he's involved in a deadly accident, and in a panic contacts the son (Nate Parker) of a former employee to help him flee the scene.

Here the movie pivots, and Jarecki's portrait of a money/power and privilege in action becomes a grittier procedural, made by somebody who obviously grew up idolizing Sidney Lumet. Tim Roth is a nosy detective who knows that Miller is dirty and who is willing to cut corners to get him - applying pressure on Parker's character because, frankly, Miller is effectively above the law.

"Arbitrage" becomes a movie of investigative legwork and slick lawyering, with district attorneys and defense attorneys trying to game each other and navigate a system distorted by race, class, and privilege.

It's a thoughtful piece of work, but a little jumbled and in the end a little flat. What starts as a portrait of power turns into a thriller and then reverts again to Miller, a King Lear-like figure whose efforts to protect the family name end up tearing it apart (Brit Marling is his protégé daughter). It's a tragedy without tears.


Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or thompsg@phillynews.com. Read his blog at philly.com/KeepItReel.

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