Last night I had the chance to sneak out for a little fun, and decided on Arbitrage, director
Nicholas Jarecki‘s new drama, starring Richard Gere as Robert Miller, a crooked hedge fund manager who runs into trouble.
Almost the first voice we hear after the lights go down belongs to…Maria Bartiromo. Miller’s being interviewed in his outlandishly fabulous New York home. So right away, Jarecki’s treating us to some verisimilitude in the universe he’s creating. It holds true throughout the film…Miller’s ride from the airport isn’t just any town car. It’s a Maserati. (OK, I think it’s a Maserati.)
The smooth, cool writing keeps the whole edifice from slipping into melodrama. Toward the end of the film, Miller and his wife (Susan Sarandon) are ending their marriage. The exchange is emotional, of course. But when we learn that Mrs. Miller has known all along how crooked Robert is, how she’s covered her own back and looked after her own interests all along, it’s not a bolt-from-the-blue that derails her. Instead, it simply peels back the superficial layers, revealing someone beneath who’s just as transactional as her husband. “That’s my price,” she says.
Foreboding takes hold early on as the camera follows Miller in and out of his home and office, and the viewer thinks, “what terrible thing is about to happen?” Or, “what terrible thing is he about to do?” And, “Is it what’s going to happen to him, or what he’s going to do?” It’s unclear for a while how we’re meant to feel about Miller. He’s shown to be a caring family man, who has raised honest children. But he’s…a hedge fund manager. And oh, yes, he’s got a mistress (of course). This is a post-Bernie Madoff, post-post-Wall Street take on the financier
Miller’s desperate to sell out, and it’s of course because he cheated his way to the top. He’s trying to juggle his business, family, charitable, personal obligations but no man can keep all that in balance. When his mistress threatens to leave him, well…bad things happen.
Miller suddenly finds himself in need of help, and at the same time the wheels in his mind are already turning to find a way out. He calls a young man out of the past…how do they know each other? Is the young man the police’s way in? Attempts to buy his silence create a direct line of conflict between his secret and his wife, in the form of a “missing” $2 million check (“Where’s the check for the hospital? It’s only $2 million!?”).
Suddenly a film we thought was going to be about crooked business takes a turn toward noir. We meet the hard-boiled detective — who’s also crooked, but for all the “right” reasons — played well as always by Tim Roth. I might recommend that Mr. Roth get in touch with Hugh Laurie’s dialogue coach, though. Or maybe just with Hugh himself.
In the end, the police’s “way in” just becomes another illustration of how hard it is to bring down the rich. Even when they’re guilty, they slip away. In the act of eluding his own indictment, Miller’s cost himself tens of millions, the love of his daughter, his marriage (Susan Sarandon’s his unexpectedly knowing wife Yet, he finds a way to also spring his young helper, save the jobs of his employees, stick the man buying his company with the cooked books. Which is more important to him?
And here’s where casting Richard Gere really pays off. We don’t know!
Gere’s powerful performance leaves us…not rooting for Robert, but liking him. Gere really inhabits this man, bringing us down blind alleys of his personality and then back out again., and reminds the audience that he really is a damn good actor. Don’t be surprised to find him on some award lists this winter.
Arbitrage, rated R. 1 hr 47 mins. Now playing at Spectrum 8, Albany.