Arbitrage is a thriller that ignores convention with an ending that might surprise you in its arrogance.
On the surface, hedge fund Robert Miller (Richard Gere, The Double) appears to have it all. He's the king of finance, having been richly rewarded for his investment schemes and the center of attention during a CNBC interview; and, he is a happily-married father, celebrating his 60th birthday surrounded by wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon, Thelma and Louise) and daughter Brooke (Brit Marling, Another Earth) . But, hidden underneath that thick facade are some painful realities: he's desperate to sell the company before both his clients and the FTC realize that he's lost millions of dollars, and even his marriage is a sham, furthered by his ongoing affair with a struggling French artist (newcomer Laetitia Casta) whom he supports. When Miller and girlfriend are involved in a fatal car accident, he calls an unlikely source, the son of his former driver Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker, The Great Debaters) to transport him home. But soon, the police and Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth, Reservoir Dogs) begin to suspect Miller, leading them right back to Miller's savior Grant. On the deadline of his life, Miller must juggle between hiding his affair from the police, hiding the financial records of his company in time to sell it, and hiding all of this from Ellen and Brooke.
Gere is perfectly cast here, portraying his role with a quality that makes the audience wonder why they're rooting for him. But root for him we do, and that's the key to Gere's acumen as an actor. His ability to blur the lines of his characters is a strength few have; and while Saradon is impressive in getting the last laugh, it's Gere who keeps our attention as the man who's just trying to save his company and family. Director and Writer Nicholas Jarecki (The Informers) keeps the story moving by employing a nice supporting cast including Roth, Marling, and Parker, all of whom give the audience critical breaks away Gere to appreciate his return. Jarecki gives Grant some of the best lines in the film, while deftly exposing Roth's anti-rich philosophy at just the right time. There's not much difference between Arbitrage and another Fall film The Words, except that Jarecki has done a better job of casting, which in this case makes all the difference in the world. He also does a better job of exposing the real class differences in our country, those which allow the rich to seemingly deflect disaster by using the poor to achieve their means. Have a problem? Solve it with money. This is Miller's world, and even though his declaration near film's end to Grant seems like a reward for loyalty, we still feel like we need a shower afterwards.
Arbitrage is the kind of thriller that doesn't make a distinction between right and wrong. Much like life, it seeks to prove that resolutions are usually not the result of one man pushing a button in time to save the world, nor does the Bad Guy always lose, shattered under the shiny boot of Right. Too often, Hollywood encourages this false perception, one that Arbitrage flatly ignores. The ending will surprise audiences, not because of any pre-conceived shock value, but in its arrogance in suggesting that Gere is smarter than anyone else, ultimately getting away with almost every problem he caused. And much like real life, Gere's character pays a high price in slithering his way out. As he stands before a crowd to accept an award from the buyer of his company, the weight of what Miller has done is telling on his face. For me, that ecapsulates Arbitrage, a thriller that deserves people's attention, even if the ending isn't politcally correct. Arbitrage is rated R for language, and adult/sexual situations, and has a runtime of 100 minutes.
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