The unfortunate nature of the current worldwide economic climate has spawned many cinematic interpretations, with a Wall Street sequel the most high profile. Set against the backdrop of such widespread ‘downturn’ in fortunes, it’s perhaps fitting that directorial debutant Nicholas Jarecki has handpicked an esteemed actor whose own ’stock’ has suffered a decline, to spearhead this latest depiction. Associating himself with schmaltzy tales such as Nights In Rodanthe and Hachi: A Dog’s Tale? Hardly an image you’d paint when you think of Richard Gere, taking into account his glittering back catalogue. Does ‘Arbitrage’ mark a welcome return to form?
In the ‘Big Apple’, where he revels as a big shot. To the wavering public eye, hedge funder Robert Miller (Gere) is the personification of success. He may have no hesitation to declaring his ‘best work’ to be his loyal family consisting of steely eyed wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and tough talking daughter/company CFO Brooke (Brit Marling), but underneath his cool and charismatic persona lies a troubled figure crippled with concerns.
Unbeknown to Ellen, he is mired in a fully fledged affair with an aspiring art dealer (Laetetia Casta) and his long standing business has to date effectively kept under wraps inconsistencies within their accounts. As the billionaire hits the milestone of 60, the lies and deceit rear their ugly heads via a tragic car crash involving himself and a beloved figure. Cutting his losses from this unlikely occurence, Robert is soon on a morally corrupt ‘drip’ attempting to swing the odds back in his favour, triggering Tim Roth’s persistent Detective Bryer to be in hot pursuit of the truth.
‘Arbitrage’ is less incisive deconstruction of our financially stricken times, more engaging albeit familiar character study of one man using every trick in his handbook to re-enforce his power. Jarecki’s direction is taut and unshowy in its old school approach, the latter being a deliberate visual metaphor of our ’cutback’ culture with the film streamlined, in its indulgence of business ‘jargon’ compared to similar fare.
In a stellar performance, Richard Gere excels as the underhanded yet charming Miller. Whether its showing a glimmer of compassion when faced with the damage he could potentially create or the unorthodox tactics adopted to keep one step ahead, you’re almost suspending your usual mindset and rooting for such a rich character in both personality and wealth. Chewing up the scenery, Tim Roth hams it up as Bryer in a turn that wouldn’t look out of place in a classic episode of ‘Law and Order’ whilst Susan Sarandon’s Ellen may initially resemble a cameo, but is soon propelled into the heart of the action in gripping fashion.
‘Arbitrage”s ‘money is power’ premise may reek of familiarity and its abrupt ‘resolution’ may prompt groans. Nonetheless, Jarecki delivers a solid, tension simmering debut ultimately being a worthy showcase for its seasoned on-screen talents.