[Review] – Arbitrage

2 Oct

Title: Arbitrage
Year: 2012
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Writer: Nicholas Jarecki
Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker
MPAA Rating: R, language, brief violent images and drug use
Runtime: 107 min
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 73

I’ve been looking forward to watching Arbitrage for quite some time. The film, which premiered at Sundance this year, had gotten some really neat reviews and the buzz surrounding Richard Gere‘s lead performance was pretty loud, many predicting an Oscar nod for the never-nominated actor. Well, I’ve just seen the film and let me tell you something: it’s very, very good. And the fact that it’s very, very good is pretty much all about the cast which is tremendous and Mr. Gere does indeed give a superb performance as Robert Miller, a hedge-fund magnate in New York.

When we meet Robert it’s on the eve of his 60th birthday and you look at him and you’d just think he’s the luckiest guy in the world, totally set both in his business world and in his family life. But then we start getting a glimpse of what’s beneath the expensive cars and huge mansion, and we realize that Robert is in way over his head; he’s cooked up the books of his business to cover an investment loss and is desperately trying to sell off his empire to a bank before his fraud is revealed.

Not only that but he’s also way in over his head in his personal life. He’s cheating on his loyal wife and his daughter, a very smart girl and the heir-apparent to the empire, may be implicated in the crime he’s committed. So we basically see Robert Miller in a high-stakes juggling act, trying to balance his family life and the selling of his empire so that nobody finds out nothing, but then a horrible accident happens and a detective is on his tail but not for the business stuff but for a more serious crime. And it just bloody works, even when the whole thing is a bit uneven this works because director Nicholas Jarecki, who made his feature debut here, carries it off with such confidence, delivering a film that moves really well and that has the thriller elements of it enhanced by the great character study it also provides.

I really do want to give the much-deserved props to Mr. Jarecki for this film right here. If the name sounds familiar it’s probably because of his brothers, Andrew and Eugene, the former the Academy Award-nominated director the documentary Capturing the Friedmans and the latter also a documentarian, most notably for the great Why We Fight. Documentaries run in the blood, before making Arbitrage Mr. Jarecki had made one too, 2005’s The Outsider, but the stuff that he displays here just makes me think he should really stick to features now.

This whole thing just moves like the work of an established filmmaker any way you look at it, it has a tremendous sense of confidence that I loved and it does kind of show that he was involved in documentaries before in a way because of how attracted he is to these interesting stories and how he exposes all the cool little details in it. He just knows how to tell a good story in the best of ways, without overstuffing and without selling it short, and here he just crafts this tense atmosphere. He’s an astute director who knows how to make smart and entertaining movies, for a first feature Arbitrage is just a tremendous accomplishment and I hope we get to see films from him for a very long time, I feel about him like I felt about J.C. Chandor last year.

It obviously helps, like I said, that he has a cast like this one. He definitely gives great direction and the screenplay he wrote is terrific for actors but he obviously lucked out that every brought their A-game here. Mr. Gere is tremendous, this is probably the best performance he’s given in a really long time, perhaps ever, and it’s all because he’s charming. He’s always been charming, that’s his thing, but here he uses that charm to perfection, to get us to care and be fully interested in how this heartless guy who tries to get away with some serious stuff.

Then you have Susan Sarandon as Ellen, Robert’s wife, and she’s is another one of those classy actresses who’s just awesome and has great screen presence. Brit Marling, who since last year’s Another Earth has been on my radar is here as Brooke, the smart CFO daughter who’ll be hung out to dry if the truth comes out about her dad. Tim Roth as the detective that ends up questioning Robert after his lover, played by Laetitia Casta, is killed in an accident he caused and left the scene of. Then you have Nate Parker as the young man who Robert enlists to help him out, and this was probably the performance I liked the most in the whole movie after Mr. Gere’s, I thought he was really, really good.

You may, rightfully, be thinking that you’ve seen this kind of stuff before, these elements played out in other financial thrillers of late, and you’d be right because there have indeed been films like this recently. The thing is that you haven’t seen it done quite like Mr. Jarecki does it here. He builds this whole thing tremendously and gets you seriously involved in the story, constructing a story made in a classic way but that’s just expertly crafted, with great characters and a sense of urgency and an exploration of a moral code that’s just impossible to turn away from.

Arbitrage is a great film, a great thriller, a great first feature. It’s a film that gets us to root for this cheating billionaire and that succeeds at it, partly because the role is just really well-written and partly because of the actor playing him. Mr. Gere has never gotten a nomination, not even for his Golden Globe-winning role in Chicago, a film that got four acting nominations (and one win for Catherine Zeta-Jones) at that year’s Oscars where it also won Best Picture, and I don’t know if he’ll get invited to the party for his performance as Robert Miller. Regardless of what awards come his way he should be damn happy about this performance, so smart and charming, he’s really come into his own as an actor at age 63.

Grade: A-

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One Response to “[Review] – Arbitrage”

  1. colincarman October 2, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Pretty strong for a first-time director! Check out my review; write on!

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