Even with a top performance from its lead, this movie’s stock still plummets.
Photo Credit: Myles Aronwitz
We hate these guys, but hedge fund manager Robert Miller has it all. Pushing 60, and played by Richard Gere with his trademark smooth intonations, he’s a walking embodiment of the 1 percent. Slick, cocky and fundamentally vapid, he’s aiming to cash in, sell out and retire in style. Miller is even lucky enough to have a wife (Susan Sarandon) who looks the other way when he dallies around with an art dealer (Laetitia Casta).
With the possible exception of Michael Douglas, is there anybody better at playing wealthy scumbags than Richard Gere? The star’s ’80s swagger has receded into a fascinating, recessive, silver-maned emptiness. Gere has gotten a second wind in his career by playing morally bankrupt characters, and he glides through Nicholas Jarecki’s otherwise unexceptional Arbitrage with grace under pressure.
There’s a matter of a missing $400 million dollars, which Miller hides from his accountant daughter (a robotic Brit Marling) while in the midst of negotiating a massive merger. The high-stakes, financial flimflams would be enough to sustain a more interesting movie, but unfortunately writer/director Jarecki has a weakness for 1940s melodrama, and Arbitrage’s Wall Street shenanigans take a backseat to silly developments.
Miller flips his car one night, killing his mistress. Nearly caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he aims to cover up the accident while faltering from a wound to the sternum. He then enlists everybody he knows in a dopey plan that could’ve been resolved with a simple phone call to his lawyer and one bad night with his wife. It’s never really clear why Gere’s Master of the Universe should be so panicked about getting busted for cheating—it’s certainly not the worst of his sins. But the case attracts the attention of a hambone detective played by Tim Roth.
Can we speak for a moment about Roth? Just because he’s British and has been in some great movies, his egregious overacting gets overlooked. When has Roth ever met any scenery that he hasn’t eaten outright? As a hard-boiled Noo Yawk police officer, Roth makes a meal out of his vowels, thrusting out his neck muscles and carrying on like he’s in a much bigger, more theatrical film than the one we’re watching.
His showiness is a bad match for Gere, who tends to enter his scenes under the radar and keep Miller’s increasing desperation at arm’s length. Gere is one of the more gifted under-actor’s working today, sliding into movies with a relaxed narcissism that wears well in a tuxedo. While he’s working his crooked bank deal and flailing to bury the embarrassing car crash, you can’t escape the notion that Miller has done much worse in the past.
Mismatched pieces are Arbitrage’s major problem. Jarecki tries to vamp up the vintage plot turns with something close to outrage, as if he’s shocked that there’d be anything untoward going on in the modern stock market. There’s a retro-kitsch factor here, including a couple of boldly drawn baddies, but the moldy plot developments collide with a more cheerfully corrupt 21st-century thriller.
I was reminded of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, a delectably ghastly two-hour limo ride inside the id of a disconnected billionaire. It recently came and went from area theaters without much fuss. Based on the novel by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis was a stark, terrifying continuation of The Social Network and spoke openly to the soulless rot in the heart of hyper-capitalist businessmen-pirates.
Arbitrage, on the other hand, is content to play things by the book. Aside from Gere, there’s really not much to see here. Jarecki comes from a family of documentarians and makes an unaccomplished feature debut—shooting his scenes competently, if not particularly interestingly. There’s also a minor subplot involving a scapegoat chauffeur (Nate Parker) that contains a tinge of pandering racism, playing idealized African-American poverty against our smooth operator.
This would’ve been a better movie without the gimcrack, B-picture trappings. Isn’t it compelling enough to watch Gere engineer a high-stakes fraud without a dated melodrama hogging all the foreground?