Dir. Nicholas Jarecki. USA. 2012.

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Reprising his role as Edward Lewis, a wealthy corporate raider from New York in the 1990 film Pretty Woman, Richard Gere is Robert Miller, the billionaire CEO of a hedge-fund in Nicholas Jarecki's entertaining suspense drama, Arbitrage. The word “arbitrage” refers to making riskless profits by exploiting statistical anomalies (mispricing) of an asset by playing both sides. It is not necessary to know what the word means, however, to keep track of the events that trigger Miller's downward spiral. Outwardly, Miller is a charming man who seems to have it all, money status, respect and a doting family - but underneath his morals extend only to what makes him richer, regardless of the human consequences.

He is the prototype of the arrogant one-percenter that comes to mind when we think of the corrupt Wall Street tycoons that sent the economy into a tailspin in 2008. Miller is not “people-oriented.” He could easily have repeated his response from Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts asks him, “What about the people who work for those companies?" "People have nothing to do with it," he explained. "It's strictly business." Unlike the bachelor Lewis, Miller has a wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and two children who work for him, his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), also his business partner and Chief Accountant, and his son (Austin Lysy), but they seem to be important only for the sake of his convenience.

Miller's relationship with his wife is not exactly glowing with romance. At the opening of the film, after his family has given him a birthday party, he sneaks out of the house to see his exotic mistress, French art gallery owner Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta) whose relationship is apparently unbeknownst to his wife. Miller has more going on than infidelity at this point, however. He is deeply engaged in a merger that will allow him to sell his investment firm at a profit, but in order to cover a $400 million dollar shortfall, he has fabricated the numbers by borrowing from another investor who is now demanding his money back, all of these machinations hidden from everyone in the company, including Brooke.

As if the financial problems weren't enough, Miller leaves the scene of a fatal accident, shuddering to think what the publicity would do to his reputation. Trying to cover his tracks, he calls Jimmy, the son of his former Chauffeur who is an ex-con, and asks him to drive him home. These events do not sit well with Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) who has reason to suspect Miller was involved in the accident but shifts his investigation to Jimmy. Threatening Jimmy with a ten-year jail term for obstruction of justice, he tries to coerce him into a confession, but, with Miller's support, the rules that apply to the rest of us do not seem to be relevant for those with power and influence.

Sparing no one in his indictment of malfeasance, Jarecki spreads the web of corruption to the detective as well, leaving the film with Jimmy, perhaps being the only sympathetic character. Arbitrage has moments of suspense but little follow through. It is a character study, a police procedural, and an expose of high stakes financial wrongdoing, yet it fails to explore any of these aspects with any depth or boldness. While Gere is in top form in of his best roles in years (even Oscar worthy), Sarandon and Marling have little to do to display their considerable talents. Gere is a believable character and we are too familiar with the moral decay of Wall Street, yet Arbitrage does nothing to move the issues past their starting point and, given the stellar cast, delivers less dramatic impact than one would have expected.


Howard Schumann

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