Arbitrage is a pleasure to watch and keeps you entertained the whole way through. The script is sharp and concise, nearly to a fault.
Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage is a riveting thriller that works without being wholly original, instead it relies on a solid script backed by a fantastic lead performance by Richard Gere. Similar to what Margin Call was last year, the film is economically relevant, featuring a corrupt business leader, a ‘1%er’, who does whatever it takes to prevent his company from tanking. From the very beginning to the end, Arbitrage is gripping film that uses its runtime effectively, making the runtime fly-by.
Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a high profile CEO of Miller Capital. The opening sequence has him landing from his corporate jet and entering his luxury penthouse. A bellhop greets him with presents for the children that accompany his birthday party, which he pretends to be surprised about. Even though Robert is a CEO, he is a very likeable guy, one that you proudly stand behind when working underneath him. We find out that his daughter, Brooke Miller (Brit Marling), works as the Chief Financial Officer for the company and that her father had just decided to sell the company earlier that day. She playfully, but with a serious tone, asks him why he would want to sell a company that is doing so well. He brushes it off as just being at a point in his life where he is ready to let go of the company, but there is a strong sense of an ulterior motive.
Robert leaves his birthday party telling his wife, Ellen Miller (Susan Sarandon) that he needs to go to his office to finish up some of the paper work. He enters his limo but his destination is not his office. Instead he visits the residence of a woman who he clearly has an attachment with. The two exchange a few words then passionately begin to make love. He is a charmer who hides behind his friendly smile to live a double life.
Things take a drastic turn when Robert and his mistress (Laetitia Casta) are on their way out of the city one night. Robert falls asleep behind the wheel and crashes into the median causing the vehicle to flip. He walks away with just a few scratches, but unfortunately his mistress is dead in the passenger seat. Naturally, his first instinct is to call 911, but he refrains from doing so after thinking about what the implications would be for both his career and personal life.
The script in Arbitrage is sharp and concise, nearly to a fault. Most of the supporting characters were not developed because of the film’s concentration of the main plot. Supporting characters have heavily implied backstories, but the film never went beyond the surface on any of them. So I appreciated the script for the most part but having such a tight focus does have its trade-offs.
Having said that about the supporting characters, Marling was alright but did not have a particularly memorable role. Susan Sarandon laid low for most of the film, until the very end where she made a grand finale performance. But the true star of the film is of course Richard Gere (the role felt written for him though apparently it was originally for Al Pacino). Gere delivers a performance that may be his best to date, or at the very least, the best in a long while. He is a flawed character but one you find yourself rooting for even though you probably should not be.
Arbitrage is not a terribly original story, a prolific man gets into trouble and attempts to sweep it all under the rug while seeking pity from both his family and the audience, but it is one that is well crafted. It is an effective thriller with some minor faults that act more like speed bumps than showstoppers. Arbitrage is a pleasure to watch and keeps you entertained the whole way through.