by George Sax
In one late, charged scene in Nicholas Jarecki’s convoluted, Wall Street-set crime melodrama, the main character’s adult daughter accuses him of involving her in financial fraud. Dismissing his defense of this conduct, she says, “For a moment I thought you were going to say you were sorry.” Actually Robert Miller (Richard Gere) has been telling various people he’s sorry with some regularity, and he has a lot to be sorry about. Miller, the head of a Wall Street investment firm is tottering, along with his company, on the edge of calamity, and he’s been scrambling, corner-cutting, and lying to very important people, including some from law enforcement, in order to pull away from this disaster.
The main thrust of Miller’s efforts to avert disaster is pursuit of a deal to sell the company to another Wall Street wolf and, he calculates, make all his troubles go away. Jarecki, who also wrote the script, makes Miller’s troubles expand in number and seriousness almost exponentially, as his movie moves efficiently onward. By its end, this tycoon has entangled himself in a books-cooking scheme and a homicide; inadvertently set someone up as a fall guy; may be guilty of justice obstruction; and more. Arbitrage is chockablock with scheming and peril—moral, legal, and financial. Jarecki, whose feature debut this is, has fashioned a pacey, frequently tense crime drama. It has some pretense of moral overtones, but this is no exposé of mad greed at America’s social and economic heights. It’s not even up to the limited ethical disapproval of last year’s Margin Call. Arbitrage is more like a legal and crime procedural along the lines of a John Grisham thriller, although some of the dubious legal maneuvering smacks of what one local practitioner has called “movie law.”
Jarecki has obvious cinematic story telling aptitude. He keeps this vehicle moving with scenes and shots that don’t linger too long, and that elide nicely with the ones that follow. Arbitrage’s light, entertaining structure allows us to ignore some implausibilities and plot overload, until what’s apparently intended as an ironically layered confrontation and resolution falls a little flat.
Gere has to carry most of the movie with the central performance and for the most part he’s solid and sympathetic, if perhaps a bit slick and too sympathetic. Susan Sarandon’s role as Miller’s wife doesn’t permit her much scope for her skills; it’s too vaguely and inconsistently written. There is a nice little surprise when Stuart Margolin (the conniving Angel in The Rockford Files, James Garner’s 1970s TV show, and more recently, a member of the Chautauqua Institute’s summer theater company) turns up as Miller’s ethically and practically concerned lawyer. Vanity Fair’s editor, Grayson Carter, is less amusing in a cameo as the corporate shark who may or may not buy Miller’s firm. He’s not going to be another John Houseman.
Watch the trailer for Arbitrage
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