Richard Gere aces his best role in ages in this meaty corporate thriller about the continuing scourge of fat cat culture.
In the 1995 Simpsons episode A Star Is Burns, fictional film critic Jay Sherman squares the contemptuous barb, "How do you sleep at night?" at Rainier Wolfcastle after the musclebound action star reveals that his latest vehicle, McBain: Let's Get Silly, which consists of him standing in front of a brick wall telling bad jokes for 90-minutes, cost $80 million.
"On top of a pile of money with many beautiful ladies," comes the oblivious deadpan response.
Such is the plight of the rich and dumb. Or, as in Arbitrage, the seriously rich and fiendishly smart.
On the surface of writer/director Nicholas Jarecki's unspectacular but entirely watchable white-collar parable, wealth and power breed hypocrisy. Respected hedge fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is as well-versed in keeping his clients sweet as giving diplomatic speeches to roomfuls of distinguished peers. He's also, wouldn't you just know it, a ruthlessly self-serving shamster who doesn't lose a wink over cooking his company's books, cheating on wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and pulling the wool over business-partner daughter Brooke (Brit Marling).
Miller's precariously stacked house of cards looks in danger of being toppled following a late-night incident involving his French art-dealing mistress (Laetitia Casta) and a reformed Harlem youth (Nate Parker), with whom Miller shares an unlikely and intriguing father-son dynamic. Suddenly Miller has bigger fish on his plate than potential investors in his tumourous stock, namely Tim Roth's craggy detective, who rises to the challenge of debagging a grubby-pawed billionaire with sly fervour.
Gere excels in the unfamiliar guise of slick-suited seven-figure prick, his puckered loucheness and unflappable rationalism expertly complimented by composer Cliff Martinez's typically synthy score, which blips and swells in all the right places. What really makes Gere's performance, and indeed the film, stand out, however, is his immense likeability. Crucially, this allows us to identify with Miller without the prerequisite of him coming fully unstuck or showing penitence for his sins.
Arbitrage works, then, not because it evokes countless headlines about the myriad ills of Wall Street's fattest cats, but because it very carefully and pointedly lures us into examining our own moral fibre. For all its anti-Capitalist posturing this seductive corporate thriller is perhaps best framed as a comment on how we all live our lives. Wealth and power are relative, it's what the individual values that matters.
Great to see Richard Gere in something with teeth.
Greed is good.
Like Gere's Machiavellian tycoon, Arbitrage's flaws only start to appear under close scrutiny.