Arbitrage (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
Richard Gere, having grown into looking the role of a silver fox of finance, plays Robert Miller, the head of a successful hedge fund. A deal has gone very badly for him and he desperately needs four hundred million dollars to cover his losses. When things look like they could not get worse, he is blind-sided by a serious problem in his personal life. One problem or the other will almost certainly land him deservedly in prison. The viewer may be unsure to hope he wins or loses. One almost roots for the perfectly cast Gere, all the while seeing him as a slimeball. Oh, and you will learn more about arbitrage from this review than you will from Arbitrage.
Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Financial Master of the Universe Robert Miller (played by Richard Gere) begins the film by saying that he learned in college that world affairs hinge on five things … M, O, N, E, and Y.
Certainly as the film opens Miller’s affairs are hinging on money or rather the lack thereof, and he is in bad trouble. He has embezzled four hundred million dollars from his own company, borrowed money to cover it and cannot pay it back. Now he has kept the borrowed funds much longer than the agreed term of the loan and as he is trying to save himself he commits a second unrelated (non-fiscal) crime. Now there are any number of people who are threats to him.
Almost certainly his empire will crumble if he cannot sell off the company that he founded and then betrayed. When that sale falls through he has to decide, can he save himself or will he have to go to prison? A suave, hypnotic personification of corporate villainy, Miller repels and fascinates the viewer, a screen villain for our time much as Gordon Gekko was for his time. The audience with Schadenfreude may be silently hoping to see him brought down. In its own way this is an exercise in suspense as much as it is a portrait of an expert thief willing to mortgage his relationship with his family to get what he really wants. Still, Nicholas Jarecki, who writes and directs his first fiction feature film, never judges the amoral Miller.
The story asks the question who really is and is not honest. Some of the people who betray trust are totally unexpected. Jarecki has a good cast assembled. Susan Sarandon is somewhat under-used as Ellen Miller, Robert’s too easily manipulated wife. Tim Roth is a police detective who appears to be in the Columbo mode. Stuart Margolin, usually a comic actor, comes off surprisingly distinguished as a high-powered lawyer. Chris Eigeman, veteran of Whit Stillman films, has a less intellectual and lower-key role here than one is used to from his previous films.
Since the 2008 crash there has been increased public interest in very-high finance and particularly illegal and/or immoral deals. The practice of arbitrage–the simultaneous buying and selling of a commodity to profit from a rate difference–has a particularly unsavory reputation. The middleman can reap large profits for little service. Some unsavory doings do occur in Arbitrage, but not arbitrage. In fact, ten years ago the nearly identical story could have been told with the main character selling a piece of real estate and owing money to a loan shark. A film like Margin Call is much more closely tied to high financial dealings than Jarecki’s is. I rate Arbitrage a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper