Posted on: 8th March 2013  |

Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker
UK Release date: 1 March 2013
Certificate: 15 (100 mins)

It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second. (John Steinbeck)

As Arbitrage opens, we see Robert Miller (Richard Gere), fresh from his private jet, arriving at his New York mansion for his 60th birthday party. A butler discreetly hands him some children’s presents and he enters the party – the caring grandfather, the beloved patriarch. He duly blows out the candles, makes a speech about the importance of family, and then leaves for his mistress’s apartment.

If life and the movies have taught us anything, it’s that we should never judge a character by outward appearances. And that's precisely why casting Gere in this role is such a masterstroke. There’s a natural instinct to root for him – movie-memory, of sorts. We know Gere as ‘The Good Guy’, the romantic lead. And we do him a disservice by that, for here he revels in inverting that persona, crafting a morally bankrupt character beneath the veneer of the perfect businessman.

We quickly learn that the mistress is only the tip of the iceberg. Miller, a hedge fund magnate, is also playing fast and loose with the figures in his company’s accounts. A multi-million dollar deal that would see his business taken over by a major bank sits on the table, but there’s a problem – a $400 million hole in the accounts, the result of a failed copper mine investment. Miller is desperate to close the deal before the loss is revealed, but his suitor bides his time and his daughter Brooke, also his company’s chief investment officer, starts to see some worrying entries in the accounts. A car crash from which Miller walks away, leaving a passenger dead, then fully reveals the true character beneath that perfect facade.

What I loved about Arbitrage was that it seems such a predictable story: rich businessman commits fraud and cheats on his wife; we’ve seen it before, right? And we have, to a point – but Arbitrage takes us on a familiar route to an unfamiliar destination. This is a world where black and white only exist in Miller’s mind, everything else is in shades of grey. At one point, asked if he thinks money is the answer to everything, he responds, ‘is there anything else?’ It’s not a flippant response; everything else is secondary to him. As Miller’s personal and business lives begin to fall apart, we see this mindset further revealed, with everyone in his life treated as a resource, easily expendable. We expect the supporting characters to provide the moral counterpoint, but there’s ambiguity there – as each character develops, we find ourselves reevaluating them. Money, it seems, may just be the answer to everything, in their world at least. Even Bryer (Tim Roth), the detective pursuing Miller in the wake of the car crash, is shown to be morally flawed, falsifying evidence in his quest to bring Miller down. Redeeming characteristics are few and far between, and compromise abounds.

Gere is fantastic in the lead role. There are few actors who inhabit the world of the super-rich with such ease, and fewer still who can turn from hero to villain without lapsing into self-parody. He is ably supported by his fellow cast members, including a wonderful turn by Susan Sarandon as his seemingly oblivious wife, and Nate Parker, playing a key role as the man to whom Miller turns when events begin to spiral out of control.

Arbitrage also works as a satisfying post-financial crisis drama. While films such as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Margin Call have taken a more didactic approach to corporate fraud, Arbitrage gives us a morality tale wrapped up in an easily accessible pulp thriller. The script never gets bogged down in financial detail, but we’re left under no illusion as to the utter duplicity of Miller’s character, blindsided by greed and self-interest.

It would be nice to think that we have learned lessons from the failures of the past decade, but Steinbeck’s words are unfortunately as true as they’ve ever been. This is highly recommended viewing.

Andrew Cotter

 Visit this film's official web site


Arbitrage Official Trailer #1 (2012) - Richard Gere Movie HD


Type any words in the box below to search Thinking Faith for content containing those words, or tick the ‘author’ box and type in the name of any Thinking Faith author to find all of his or her articles and reviews. You can also narrow your search by selecting a category from the dropdown menu.