To look at Robert Miller, the hedge-fund king played with implacable cool by Richard Gere in the slick and suspenseful Arbitrage, is to see a man at the top of his game: rich, powerful, respected, a beautiful wife, a beautiful mansion, beautiful art.
At least, that's how Miller comes across. But the guy in the bespoke suit with the corporate jet is actually almost $400 million in the hole. Miller has been cooking the books, and unless he sells the firm he's built from scratch before his accounting scam is found out, he and his empire are over. Kaput.
Such is the premise of Nicholas Jarecki's impressively packaged first feature, which follows Miller as he heaps one bad decision atop another. There are the casual lies to his wife, Ellen (a sly and quiet Susan Sarandon), about why he can't come up with a paltry $1 million check for one of her philanthropic causes, and the not so casual lies to his daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), who serves as his company's chief financial officer.
And then there is his mistress, Julie (Victoria's Secret alum Laetitia Casta), an artist he has been supporting, paying for her gallery show and her downtown loft. It's when the two of them hie off for a midnight drive to the country that Miller's life literally spins out of control: a car accident, a death, a panicky cover-up.
Jarecki, younger brother of filmmakers Andrew Jarecki (All Good Things) and Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight), has a lot to juggle: the complicated financial wheelings and dealings; the appearance of a dogged NYPD detective - a Columbo-esque Tim Roth - who doesn't like the idea of entitled Wall Streeters getting away with murder, and a young black man from Harlem (Nate Parker) whose ties to Miller, and loyalty, are sorely tested.
Is it a testament to Jarecki's writing and directing, and to Gere's performance, that we find ourselves rooting for Miller to get himself out of this mess? Is he, at heart, a good man? Or are his frauds and lies beyond redemption? Is the elite class allowed to play by a different set of rules?
Arbitrage is at its best when it prompts us to ask these questions. The scenes between Gere and the strikingly good Marling - when the daughter who has loved her father so dearly finally discovers his elaborate deception - are fraught with tension and anger and hurt. But in the end, Arbitrage disappoints a bit. The writing isn't as sharp, or sophisticated, as it needs be. And the cynicism exhibited by Miller and the circle of traders and tycoons he moves in seeps into the fabric of the story itself.
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.