IF YOU GO:
Quality: ★★★½ (out of four)
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Stars: Richard Gere, Brit Marling, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon, Stuart Margolin, Nate Parker
Rating: R for language, brief violent images, drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Robert Miller is a real snake.
Miller is the central focus of “Arbitrage,” a suspenseful tale of financial and moral corruption from first-time director-screenwriter Nicholas Jarecki.
Watch in fascination as Miller betrays his wife and his mistress, lies to his daughter in ways that could ruin her professional life, uses the son of his late trusted chauffeur as a possible fall guy and tries to cover up financial fraud that could put him in prison for decades and leave investors holding the bag.
What's great about “Arbitrage” is that it's so well-written and acted, you're left on the edge of your seat, waiting to see if the snake gets away with it all. It's a sign of the times we live in that we might now pull for, or at least admire, someone who puts super-wealth and closing the deal above all scruples.
It's also yet another sign that Richard Gere, as Miller, is a very skilled actor when it comes to playing characters of moral compromise, self-interest and masked feeling, as he has in movies as varied as “Unfaithful,” “American Gigolo,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Internal Affairs” and “Pretty Woman.”
Gere gives a terrific, layered performance as Miller, the owner of a venture capital firm who is trying to sell it to a large investment bank.
The trouble is, he's borrowed money from a friend to temporarily plug a $400 million hole in the books after he lost money that wasn't his.
He can keep up the illusion of everything being fine for just so long. If his firm is sold quickly, all will be well. But the acquiring bank is dragging its feet. His daughter (Brit Marling), who is his trusting chief financial officer, and his wife (Susan Sarandon), who tolerates his cheating, begin to smell trouble.
Things get stickier when his mistress, a French artist he has been subsidizing, dies in a car crash after he falls asleep behind the wheel. Miller flees the crash scene, knowing his involvement would further delay the sale of his firm. He gets the ex-con son (Nate Parker) of his former chauffeur to come get him in the dead of night.
Two more performances worth noting: Tim Roth as a bulldog detective investigating the crash. He, too, faces moral compromises if he's going to bag the billionaire. And Stuart Margolin (remember “The Rockford Files”?) is perfectly cast as Miller's oily, fawning lawyer.
Part of the fun is being a fly on the wall, watching how the super-rich move through the world. Sarandon's character, perplexed that a $2 million charity donation is delayed, scoffs at it as “routine.” And the moral conversations between husband and wife, client and lawyer, deal-cutting businessmen and father and daughter would curl my hair if I had any.
There are lots of strong character performances, but the movie belongs to Gere. He's like a silver swan, gliding smoothly on the surface and paddling madly underneath — a total fraud, but one with finesse, looks and a lot of money.
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