Review: Arbitrage

Sep 14, 2012

More often than not, movies these days are not created, they’re cobbled together like a casserole recipe using parts from other sources. In this instance, take Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, add an episode of Law  & Order… any episode, doesn’t matter from which of the series…drop in a pinch of Bernie Madoff, and blend in a whiff of Pretty Woman, and you have Arbitrage. This new thriller is set against the perilous world of hedge funds and high finance, and is nothing if not topical.

For first-time director Nicholas Jarecki, Richard Gere plays another billionaire…hence the reference to Pretty Woman… as the cold-blooded Robert Miller. Despite being rich and famous, he has managed to lose $400 million in other people’s money. Complicating this scenario is his on-going affair with a young protégée. Oh what tangled webs we weave.

Writer-director Jarecki has previously made one documentary and one short film, so this first stab at a narrative fiction feature is quite good as his calling card. Although parts of the plot seem a bit disjointed, Jarecki moves the film along at a decent pace. Gere offers his usual self-assured performance in a role he could probably play in his sleep. He still manages enough charisma to elicit interest in this man, despite being completely self-centered.

The efficient and dependable Susan Sarandon plays Gere’s long-suffering wife, and manages to know her lines and not bump into the furniture. But she seems distracted like this is just a paycheck movie for her without providing much career satisfaction.

The best performance in the ensemble is Tim Roth as a driven police officer who desperately wants to nab Gere for a variety of reasons. Roth, who gained fame in the US for his outings with Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, is a consummate character actor, and provides sufficient glue to hold the film together.

Newcomer Brit Marling, seen earlier this year in Another Earth, is fine as Gere’s daughter and his second in command at work, while France’s Laetetia Casta doesn’t have much to do as Gere’s younger inamorata.

As you can tell from this description, it’s pretty much a by-the-numbers affair that looks good, maintains interest, and gets you out of the house for a couple of hours. Arbitrage will likely seem familiar, not win any Oscars, and also has the same feel as a made-for-cable movie. But given the alternatives these days before any of the important year-end Oscar contenders are released, the independently filmed and distributed Arbitrage is better than any of the studio sponsored sequels, series, and horror films that are annually trotted out to fill the blanks on the booking charts of all the available movie screens.

The R-rated Arbitrage is now showing at the Esquire Theatre.