Film Review: Arbitrage

Arbitrage is a very entertaining thriller that could have had a bit more bite, making it morally harder to root for the very good Richard Gere.

Gere plays Robert Miller, a big time owner or a big time company, who rocketed to financial stardom when he made a ton of money when the 08 housing bubble burst.  Now he is turning 60, is looking to sell his company, and set his family up to have a great life every generation down.  The first fifteen minutes of the film set up Miller as a pretty good guy.  Then you meet the mistress, hear about the shady deals behind the scenes of his company and something even worse happens.  What happens after that becomes a mad scramble to cover his own ass and the proceedings are very fun to watch.

Directed by Nicholas Jarecki, the young director makes a fantastic feature debut here with taught pacing, a sharp camera and some great work by his stars.  Jarecki thrusts himself into that “one to watch” category with ease here as it is one of the stronger debuts I have seen this year.  The film is polished and thrilling and you won’t find yourself checking your watch once.

I did mention that bite earlier and that is the film doesn’t put that negative of a light on our anti-hero.  Sure you can find things to not like Gere over (cheating on his wife being the most obvious) but the film gives him a lot of outs on the things that could be damning on his character.  Most people that made money on the housing bubble bursting were in on the scam, but the film doesn’t mention that.  Miller is pulling the wool over the eyes of his potential buyers, but he got burned and was just protecting his family. There are a lot of instances like this throughout the film.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to see Gere burn the people that are willing to go farther than him, but the film paints a picture of everyone here is pretty terrible for the most part.  I think the film could have taken the, “should I be rooting for this guy,” element a lot further and really had people squirming for rooting for this guy.

I have mentioned Gere already and he really is great in the film.  I haven’t seen this good of a performance from him since Chicago and he is just a lot of fun to watch.  There is a fire and desperation Gere has to put on here and the performance allows him to show a ton of range as Miller’s situation is almost constantly changing.  Also shining in the film is Tim Roth who plays a scraggily cop who is hot on Gere’s tail.  Roth’s character actually gets a bit short changed by some too telegraphed twists, but I was hoping he would pop back up on the screen quickly whenever he went away.  Susan Sarandon makes the most of her few scenes in the picture and I do think Brit Marling was underused in her first big studio film.  Nate Parker is the scene stealer here as an acquaintance of Miller’s who ends up going toe to toe with Roth throughout much of the film.  Parker is funny and sincere while working wonderfully off Gere and Roth in their many encounters.

Complaints aside, Arbitrage is a good way to spend a couple hours in the movie theater.  Good performances from a strong cast accompany an impressive debut by director Jarecki.  Jarecki’s script has a couple of missteps and there are a couple editing choices that had me scratching my head, but more often than not Arbitrage is great entertainment; it comes just shy of being a great film.

Arbitrage is a B+

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