First-time director Nicholas Jarecki’s cynical financial fable ‘Arbitrage’ wants to take a suspenseful poke at the reckless rich and remind us of the duplicity behind the pompous privileged. In times of the incessant recession that is affecting disenfranchised people everywhere, one would think that ‘Arbitrage’ would be a timely and smart cautionary tale spotlighting class struggle for the wasteful wealthy and the penniless poor. Instead, it is a synthetic high finance suspense piece dripping in the drab dollar signs of obviousness.
There is no doubt that unredeemable individuals can make for compelling character studies. The hopeless pawns in ‘Arbitrage’ are just not convincing or interesting enough to sell this point of view. One can appreciate the coldness and calculating wheeling-and-dealing excess of slick arrogant moguls. However, the mediocre moneybags sentiment in ‘Arbitrage’ lacks dramatic bite in its skepticism of corporate corruption.
Absurdly affluent Hedge-fund wizard Robert Miller (Richard Gere) seemingly has all his golden ducks in a row. He is a matured, handsome and worth a filthy fortune. He is blessed with a family that includes his attractive wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and children that reside with him in his posh townhouse in Manhattan. Robert’s lovely daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) seems like she’s a chip off the old block that might follow her father into the lucrative money-making business.
As with some powerful men in the world of financial shark tanks, Robert has the tendency to feel a sense of entitlement for other materialistic stimulation that drives him to higher ranks of fulfillment. For instance, he harbours a delicious-looking French art dealer mistress named Julie (Laetitia Casta) who is growing impatient of Robert’s part-time affection for her.
While Robert tries to balance his revolving romances with his wife and girl-friend, he manages to get tangled up in a dilemma where his illegal usage of his clients’ funds prompts him to sell his mega-million dollar company. There is a questionable bank loan that his firm is accountable for so the plan to dump his company on a fellow big bucks cutthroat (‘Vanity Fair’ editor Graydon Carter in a cameo appearance) is essential for Robert to accomplish. This raises some concerns for his offspring Brooke whose role as the company’s chief investment officer has her closely examining the account books that do not seem to add up properly. Sadly, Brooke has no idea whatsoever about her father’s fiduciary entanglement.
To add further strife to the dire monetary mess that could land Robert Miller in legal hot water with some serious fines and jail time, he carelessly crashes his car in a casual night-time drive with Julie and kills her. Now Robert has a manslaughter charge hanging over his head to complicate his personal and professional woes. In panic mode, Robert calls in a favour from a former employee’s son (Nate Parker), a young black accomplice that stands in for the chaos of Miller’s misdeeds.
Also thrown into the furious fold is snooping police detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), which spells doom for Robert should he uncover the escalating wrongdoing being perpetrated by this fictionalized Bernie Madoff-inspired shyster. The only curious thought at hand is wondering when Robert’s deception catch up with him concerning his dark secrets of financial foreplay? Whenever that moment arrives, the audience might not even care one way or the other.
Writer-director Jarecki systematically piles on the angst as Gere’s Robert Miller trudges through the sludge he has created while falsely wearing his philanthropic façade. Still, the payoff for Robert’s redemption feels phony because as the guy’s unctuous activities builds one gets the empty feeling that there is not any reasonable room to root for a wallet-bulging huckster that exudes indifference based on his heavy-handed infractions. The belief that Robert can wash his hands of the money-related mayhem by transferring his endangered company to another ruthless financier does not make any sense. Would Robert Miller still be at fault for his fraudulent shenanigans despite whoever purchases his troubled financial firm? The logic to this revelation is quite laughable.
‘Arbitrage’ is yet another conventional currency caper that exerts a derivative moodiness that has all the imaginative bang of a smashed piggy bank on a mansion’s waxed floor. Gere is serviceable as the philandering finance honcho caught up in a web of his own self-destructive devices. At times, Gere looks as if he needs to be challenged more by the scattershot script. Sarandon’s Ellen is an underwritten and dismissive role that never really registers with the gusto needed to sympathize with her tolerance of a cheating silver-haired cad. Roth shows some guilty pleasure inspiration as an intrusive cop looking for dirt regardless of his ragged presence.
The so-called Wall Street-oriented shakedown being administered in ‘Arbitrage’ is about as defining as writing a blank check against a withdrawn banking account.
Arbitrage (Roadside Attractions)
Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Tim Roth, Nate Parker, Graydon Carter
Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Mystery & Suspense/Drama
Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars).