The definition of "arbitrage" is the possibility of a risk-free profit at zero cost. It is also the title of the new financial thriller, starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. The story explores how being wealthy in the U.S. affords some the luxury of being above the law.
Gere plays Robert Miller, billionaire family man and fraudulent hedge-fund manager. On the surface, he seems like a successful, sophisticated businessman whose face graces the cover of Forbes Magazine. But Miller doesn't play by the rules: He is completely amoral, ready to throw anyone under the bus, including his own daughter (Brit Marling), the CFO of his company. There is nothing beyond money for Miller.
He has been cooking the books (to the tune of $400 million) while trying to sell off his trading empire. Meanwhile, Miller is involved in a deadly car crash that could kill the deal, and his reputation, which involves his mistress (Laetitia Casta). He turns to an unlikely friend, a young black man (Nate Parker) to clean up the mess. I'm not certain if this is a veiled analogy or pure coincidence.
Tangled webs are weaved when a scrappy, but savvy, NYPD cop, Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) puts it all together but has trouble tying up loose ends. Bryer begins to realize that the playing field is not at all level for the rich versus the disenfranchised. Miller will get away with murder because he can afford to do so. And that's that.
Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki, in his first narrative feature film, was inspired to write "Arbitrage" after reading articles in Vanity Fair about the deceit which derailed Wall Street. There is certainly a Bernie Madoff element in the film, but no direct reference, whatsoever. Jarecki’s script is smart and perfectly paced. It's so well-crafted that the audience is inclined to want Miller to prevail. On some level it's so wrong but exceedingly gratuitous charm can go a long way.
And Gere is beyond charming. His manipulative, slick persona, as the scumbag financier, is beautiful to behold. When his character puts his daughter's life in jeopardy, Gere is so smooth it comes off as just another day of screwing people. Sarandon, as the perfunctory wife, is also on top of her game and gives a brilliant performance, particularly at the end, dispensing Miller a dose of his own maleficent medicine. And both actors are aging beautifully, I might add.
"Arbitrage" is not a moral fable. It is simply what is ... a commentary on what's happening in our country. The people who brought it to the brink of disaster are still out there peddling their wares. It's criminal but we turn a blind-eye because it has become the norm. "Arbitrage" doesn't ask why, it just delivers the goods.
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