Review: Arbitrage (Sundance 2012)
PLOT: A hedge-fund tycoon (Richard Gere) who’s embroiled in some dirty dealings, finds his whole world spinning out of control after a deadly accident forces him to turn to an unlikely friend for help.
REVIEW: ARBITRAGE is two movies in one, but really, only one of them is good. Luckily, the one that’s good is REALLY good, so that makes up for the completely unnecessary second film that’s somehow seeped its way into ARBITRAGE. The good part of ARBITRAGE is luckily where the lion’s share of the screen time is devoted. This part of the film focuses on our anti-hero, Robert Miller (Gere), who seems to be one of the few big-money guys left who’s been virtually untouched by the recession. In an early monologue, Miller explains that this is because, as the child of people who grew up in the Depression, and then had to suffer through WW2, he was raised to believe that bad things will ALWAYS happen, and that to survive them, one must be prepared.
As such, he’s seemingly built a life for himself and his family that allows them all the trappings of wealth that one can desire- along with the ability to spin off some of their more lucrative businesses into charity ventures that help them sleep at night. But, Miller is a man with secrets. Unbeknownst to his wife (Susan Sarandon) and his daughter (Brit Marling) who works as his number 2 at the company, Miller’s been involved with some dirty dealings, both on the streets and in the sheets.
The dirty dealings on the streets is where the film is really interesting, with him having inflated his company’s account by hundreds of millions of dollars to make his company a valued target for a buyout (by a tycoon played by none other than Vanity Fair’s Editor & Chief Graydon Carter) - which he hopes will save him from disaster, after an investment in a copper mine ends disastrously. If he’s found out, not only will Miller be ruined, but he’ll probably end up going to jail for the next twenty years, along with his daughter, who’s totally unaware, but nonetheless complicit in his actions.
Sounds pretty intriguing, right? It certainly is, and Gere gives what might be the performance of his life as Miller- making the acquisition of ARBITRAGE by Lionsgate & Roadside Attractions a no-brainer, as many have already been tipping him as a potential Oscar nominee. Gere really is incredible as an aging huckster, who can no longer get by on his good looks and charm, both of which seem to be fading with age. It’s a brave role for someone like Gere to tackle, but he’s marvelous.
But here’s the rub. If ARBITRAGE focused on Miller, and his desperate struggle to stay afloat, ARBITRAGE could have been at least as good as last year’s MARGIN CALL. But, for some reason, the decision was made to work in a subplot involving the death of Miller’s mistress- which plays out with all the originality of an episode of LAW & ORDER. On the plus side, the subplot does bring in Tim Roth and Nate Parker to the film, and both are excellent (Parker’s really been impressive lately) - but it can be denied that this plot is wholly extraneous to the film, and only pads out the running time.
ARBITRAGE is the directorial debut of Nicholas Jarecki, who’s mostly known for his great James Toback documentary, THE OUTSIDER. While I wish Jarecki had been a little less ambitious, and focused on the big-business part of the film, I suppose the crime subplot was a stab at a commercial hook, and I suppose this part of the film may make ARBITRAGE more palatable to the masses. Whatever its faults are, ARBITRAGE is still at least half of a great movie, and Gere’s performance cannot be written off. It’s as good as any that are nominated at this year’s Oscar’s, and we’ll see where that leaves him at this time next year.