There’s a reason the business pages in newspapers offer some of the best reading these days. There’s real drama and human dimension in money, both the making and the losing of it.
Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki captures exactly that in “Arbitrage,” his polished debut feature film. (Jarecki earlier made a documentary, 2005’s “The Outsider,” in which he followed about as maverick director James Toback shot and attempted to distribute a movie.)
Clearly partly inspired by the story of convicted financial trader Bernard Madoff, “Arbitrage” covers a few crucial days in the life of Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a financial titan seemingly on the verge of his greatest success.
The financial thriller opens with Miller, a silver-haired smoothie, spending a very busy night in Manhattan trying to close a deal to sell the financial firm that he has built, celebrating his birthday with his longtime wife (Susan Sarandon) and adult children (Brit Marling and Austin Lysey), and sneaking off to the opening of his mistress’ (Laetitia Casta) show of paintings at an art gallery he has funded.
That his life is complicated is clear. That it’s about to get more complicated becomes obvious when it is revealed that Miller’s business is nowhere near as sound as he’s making it out to be to a prospective purchaser and when he’s the driver in a car crash in which someone else dies.
He spends the rest of the movie desperately scrambling as he tries to salvage the sale of his company, his marriage and his relationship with his offspring, and to keep a nosey New York City police detective (Tim Roth) from getting too close to the truth about the accident.
As the movie goes on, a running theme is that both Miller and everyone around him is lying in some way, whether to themselves or to others. They all want to hang on to what they have got, but at what cost?
The film is stuffed with savvy performances, from Sarandon as a less than worshipful spouse to Marling as an ambitious daughter to Nate Parker as an unlikely ally. And there’s a sly cameo by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who pops up briefly but memorably as a rival corporate mogul.
It is, however, to Gere to whom “Arbitrage” belongs. He’s not merely gliding through here, though at this point he certainly could. Rather, he nails the silky self-confidence of Miller, a man so successful at the high-level con game he’s been running for so long that he has nearly managed to con himself.