The morality of a duplicitous New York City hedge-fund director is scrutinized amid the trappings of a thriller in writer/director Nicholas Jarecki’s first narrative feature. That Arbitrage’s money mogul is played by the silver-tongued/silver-haired Richard Gere works to complicate our relationship to the story’s morally loathsome protagonist, making the character much less off-putting than he might have appeared were he portrayed with the frumpiness of a Bernie Madoff. And then there are the detectives, who, in their zeal to capture the bad guys, are shown making their own compromises with morality, willing to exploit the power inequities of race and class to achieve their ends. All the characters in Arbitrage have their reasons, and none of them are particularly pretty.
Gere plays suave and handsome Robert Miller, a financial master of the universe, who is married to well-toned penthouse matron Ellen (Susan Sarandon). As Arbitrage opens, we witness Miller completing his day’s business meetings as he returns home to a large family dinner arranged for his 60th birthday. Robert is trying to negotiate a merger of his hedge-fund company, and cash out the company he built before anyone notices the $400 million that is missing from the company’s ledgers. Once home, he appears to be a doting spouse and father, a Mark Twain-quoting paterfamilias who expresses his wishes to retire and spend more time with his beloved family, even though his daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling, of last year’s indie breakouts, Another Earth and Sound of My Voice), who is the company’s chief financial officer wants to continue building a family business with her dad. On the heels of these declarations, Robert leaves to visit his beautiful, young girlfriend (Laetitia Casta) in her artist’s loft, an affair we suspect Ellen knows about but is willing to tolerate as long as it doesn’t interfere with her own privileged spot in the social grid. With these opening scenes, the collective moral compass of Arbitrage begins spinning wildly – long before the fatal car accident that throws everything into disarray and leads Robert to seek help from (and thereby implicate) Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of his former chauffeur, and brings Colombo-like Detective Bryer (Roth) into Robert’s life.
The morally suspect world of high finance has been fodder for news stories and documentaries in recent years, though few films have been able to capture its dramatic ramifications. Jarecki handles this orbit with aplomb, although a few narrative gaps (a belly wound that seems to disappear after a few scenes, a car accident that would do well to take a look at Gere’s 1994’s movie Intersection) do mar the narrative illusion. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux (I Am Love) and the score by Cliff Martinez (Drive) also enhance the movie’s clarity of vision and overall tension. There’s a touch of Hitchcockian flavor to the Arbitrage’s cat-and-mouse thrills, yet the film clearly announces that there’s now a third gifted Jarecki brother (in addition to Eugene and Andrew) to contend with in the moviemaking business.