First-time director, Nicholas Jarecki, takes charge of this production of his own screenplay having assembled an impressive cast for his debut. Richard Gere plays 1%-er Robert Miller, billionaire, family man, who has successfully built an empire which he intends to pass down to his daughter (Brit Marling) through an upcoming sale. But there is a catch. Miller’s business has been affected by the crash and he has been rather less than honest about his accounts.
As his professional secrets threaten to derail the biggest business deal of his life his personal life also starts to unravel, with disastrous consequences. Chased down by Tim Roth’s ferocious, unrelenting Detective Bryer, Miller turns for assistance to an old friend’s son, Jimmy (Nate Parker).
Arbitrage is a study of a man’s life falling apart as he desperately tries to cling to his money and power for his retribution. With soft electro, 90s-esque, thriller music (by Drive’s Cliff Martinez) kicking in early, and ominous business talk at 41000ft, Jarecki unveils a glossy, if surface, thriller. Gere is charismatic and appropriately vain as Jarecki’s pressured protagonist. You can see the sense of entitlement dripping from his every pore as he consistently fails to comprehend that money might this time fail to provide the get out of jail free card he needs.
Susan Sarandon (as Miller’s wife, Ellen) proves an excellent sparring partner; the audience never quite sure what she is about to do, how much she knows, or whose side she is really on. But the real stars of the show are Brit Marling (who studied Economics and previously worked as an investment analyst at Goldman Sachs) as Miller’s brilliant daughter who stumbles across one of his dirty little secrets, and Nate Parker who gives a hugely sympathetic performance as Miller’s scapegoat, Jimmy.
The only real weak link is Tim Roth, whose Detective Bryer is often a little too intense for a film that deals mainly with people who are willing to give away so little.
There are a couple of questionable directorial/scriptural decisions (if you need to have a secret meeting, going to the public park and yelling at each other about your dodgy business decisions is probably not the best option) but, on the plus side, Arbitrage is open about its own clichés with characters voicing the audience’s own cynicism on more than one occasion.
The main problem is that it seems to want to present Miller as a conflicted not-entirely-anti-hero even while he consistently fails to understand the needs of those around him beyond money, and the audience may not be willing to get on board with this judgement. It is just a pity that Roth’s character, the most direct reflection of the audience’s frustrations, is so overplayed.
As a commentary on the notion of money and power and how those with a combination of the two can create their own set of rules in which the average person has no advantages, the film certainly makes its point well. But it may be a little too forgiving for some people’s taste.
Arbitrage is released on 1st March