Film Review – Arbitrage

Arbitrage Movie PosterRight now in America, the most hated people are the bankers, the hedge fund managers, and the rich people who seem to be able to get away with everything because they have money. So to take on a character that not only is one of these people, but who also has committed a financial impropriety and is trying to cover up a more personal crime, and make us relate to him is a monumental feat. With Richard Gere’s performance and Nicholas Jarecki’s direction and script for the new film Arbitrage, however, they do just that.

Robert Miller (Gere), is a successful hedge fund manager who appears in the eyes of the public to be one of the few not caught in the current economic downturn. He is very busy man dedicated to his work, but he does spend time with his family—Ellen Miller (Susan Sarandon), his long-time wife, and his daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling). Though Robert is touching with his wife, it is his daughter who is the apple of his eye.

Robert has problems, though. He made a bad deal and is using borrowed money to make his company look more successful until he can get a merger approved and then pay it all back. He then compounds his problems when he and his mistress Julie Coate (Laetitia Casta) get into a car accident, where she dies instantly. He flees, fearing the publicity could ruin the merger and hurt his family.

Gere’s character could be just played up as the slimeball who wants to keep money over anything else, but his actions speak more strongly than that. He is truly horrified over what happens to Julie; the film gives us time to see that this hurts him, as he’s crying in the car and swearing. Even though he has a mistress, his connection with his family is still strong, as well—especially with Brooke. She works with him in the company not just because she is his daughter, but because she is that good at her job. She is taken seriously by her father and he also has been her mentor and the parent she truly looks up to. Even when it comes to getting this merger done, his reasons are to save the clients from losses and to keep his family afloat. He even mentions that after all is done, he will have little left enough to keep his house and be comfortable. That may seem like little to us, but as a man who was a billionaire, it says volumes about what he sees as a success: saving those whom he feels responsible for.

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The real sign of Robert’s devotion comes when the accident is being investigated. When he leaves the accident, he calls in the son of an old employee, Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), to pick him up. Jimmy is skeptical about everything, yet he obviously feels some loyalty to Robert. When Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) starts to put the pressure on Jimmy, he says nothing. Robert is also desperate to protect Jimmy, and it is not just about saving himself—he struggles beyond the paying off of the poor black kid (though he does do that, as well), but to make things right.

What is even more surprising about the film is that you really start to believe all of these things about Robert, and actually root for him to succeed. Yes, he has done wrong, yet nothing was ever done with malicious intent. The accident was an accident, and the bad deal has explanations that show that he wasn’t setting out to do something illegal—literally, bad things just happened. Through watching him work, we see that his success actually may be the best for everyone, even if it will hurt the ways some look at him in the long run.

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While Ricard Gere is the main focal point of everything that happens, with almost no scene without him, the rest of the cast is equally strong. Still, no one has the time on screen or the depth that Gere’s character is given, though Sarandon is given brief moments to show her role is more than the long-suffering wife. Yet it is Jarecki’s script and direction that is the other major force on display. He takes his time in slowly unveiling information about Miller’s deals, his relationship with Jimmy, and what his full motivations are, while never feeding us “surprise” moments to put us off the real answers. He also navigates the financial world’s complexity with just enough information so that we can follow along, without things becoming so complex that we get lost in the jargon.

While this could have been an easy story of a greedy hedge fund manager getting his comeuppance, Jarecki’s decision to go for the more complex morality tale shows a great eye for the inner workings of human beings. People can really do the wrong things for the right reasons. Does that excuse it? No, but in letting us see the information slowly be unveiled, both in the characters’ reactions to events and what they did in the past, we are then free to make our own judgments without the themes being made black and white. We enter the scary place of realistic gray.

Final Grade: A-


Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

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