Like something straight out of 1992, Nicholas Jarecki’s debut feature Arbitrage– a term that means the simultaneous buying and selling of a commodity (also a word never once used in the film)–is a small scale, high-gloss thriller that feels like Wall Street’s cousin. More interested in fidelity of the bodily kind, rather than the ins and outs of the financial world, Arbitrage is a solid, if wholly unremarkable, play for the adult market that should lap this mystery up thanks to Richard Gere’s (Chicago) impressive performance and the slick fluorescent hum of the New York City skyline that always threatens to close in on his character as he gets deeper and deeper into murky, shady territory.
Gere stars as an aging billionaire hedge fund manager, Robert Miller, who runs a self-made company with glitzy offices amongst the Manhattan skyline. Having made his way up from eating cheap hotdogs on street corners to the upper floors of a New York skyscraper, he is flanked in the office by his daughter, over-achieving Brooke (Brit Marling, Another Earth), and son, the less successful Peter (Austin Lysy, The Company Men). His wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon, The Lovely Bones), has carved a societal place of her own as a prominent charity fundraiser. Before long, however, Robert is being questioned by his own daughter regarding potentially fraudulent documents that could spell trouble for the company’s $400mil+ sale, as well as being questioned by a police detective (Tim Roth, Funny Games) who’s investigating the mysterious death of a lowly downtown artist with a penchant for expensive living. Elsewhere, the son of a former employee (Nate Parker, Red Tails) is lingering around as easy prey for the gruff detective.
Where Jarecki’s film succeeds is in the way it never quite goes where one thinks it might. Gere’s Robert Miller is charismatic and charming, but a cruel-hearted villain all the way. By the time he finally explodes with a litany of insults the audience has already well cottoned on to his hateful nature. Likewise, Sarandon’s wife character appears initially like a glorified Manhattan lush, but as the film progresses her own motivations appear as bright as day. Even down to the way Laetitia Casta’s (Gainsbourg) character is utilised feels somewhat like a left turn. I appreciated the way characters spoke their native businessman tongue without it being necessarily dumbed down in any obvious way, unlike Margin Call from earlier in the year, which went out of its way to present technical speak in as blatantly dim-witted ways as possible.
Sadly Jarecki’s screenplay is far too muted for its own good. The sense of danger, and the threat of collapse never feel pertinent enough–one pivotal scene takes place after a leisurely stroll through Central Park–to make the thriller angles of the movie truly thrill. By pure virtue of the lead character’s position in society, things come and go relatively easy for him, and when there are police as dopey as Roth’s Det. Bryer then it’s no wonder the film barely raises a sweat. With fine performances from the whole cast, especially Gere, Marling, and Parker, and the sleek look of Central Park West privilege, Arbitrage offers enough to keep the movie interesting, but it comes up short when asked to take its game beyond that of a Law & Order procedural.
Arbitrage opens in Australia on Thursday September 27th
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker, Laeticia Casta, Stuart Margolin, Chris Eigeman, Bruce Altman, Austin Lysy and Graydon Carter.