The word arbitrage is defined as the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices. That’s about as breathy a definition as the financial plot of Nicholas Jarecki’s new thriller. Thankfully for us, Jarecki proves to be expert at handling and explaining the financial complexities that his anti-hero, billionaire Robert Miller (Richard Gere), gets wrapped up in.
Oh, and there’s more. Arbitrage is far more than a convoluted financial drama – that’s just what its plot is rooted in. But at its heart, this is a film about a man collapsing. Because he has to keep up appearances everywhere he goes, his outer shell displays exuberant poise. But inside. But inside, he’s crumbling.
Robert Miller is in trouble. His company is currently being audited before it is sold off to the highest bidder. Problem is, because a recent copper mine deal went bad, Miller is trying to hide the fact that his company is missing nearly half a billion in revenue. If the auditors find the gap, Miller will be ruined. On top of all this, Miller and his mistress get into a car accident, in which his mistress is killed. So, at the risk of embarrassing his family, Miller leaves the scene of the accident and attempts to pretend that it never happened.
Now, obviously, there’s a lot going on here, seemingly more than there needs to be. Once Jarecki introduced Miller’s girlfriend, I was very apprehensive as to where we were going. The financial stuff is enough, why add the complication of lovers torn? With all this in mind, I proudly assert that Jarecki achieves a steadfast balance between the two plots. Miller’s crashing business is the perfect backdrop to his crashing life. The script is terse, and solid, but, admittedly, none of this would work if it wasn’t for a remarkable lead performance from Richard Gere.
As Miller, Gere is forced to convey multiple emotions, usually at the same time. As mentioned earlier: cool face, cascading stability. And to say Gere hits his marks is a vast understatement. The screaming, the crying, the loving, the wailing in pain – the man is perfect here. He alone makes the movie worth it.
But he certainly has some help. Brit Marling (a raw, true talent) plays his daughter and business partner with wit and ferocious confidence, while Susan Sarandon takes the rich desperate housewife role to wondrous new levels. Both Tim Roth, as a sleazy cop trying to take Miller down, and Nate Parker, as an innocent kid trying to help Miller out, only add to the film’s conviction.
Arbitrage isn’t perfect. But after writing that sentence, I’m honestly hard pressed to point out glaring faults of the picture. Could its pace been a little more rapid? Maybe. It’s tone a tad darker? Perhaps. But that’s being nit picky. This is an engrossing family thriller that will most definitely be time well spent. Maybe the film as a whole isn’t perfect, but many of the performances sure as hell are. B+