Film Review – Arbitrage

Arbitrage (M)

Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki

Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

It can be fascinating to watch how people react under pressure. There is some voyeuristic value in seeing them squirm but also a guide for us to learn how not to react in certain situations. Some of those placed under a crushing load step up to the plate and deliver the goods while others crumble into a sobbing mess. I’m a ball of nerves making sure this sentence is grammatically correct. Admittedly, my personal battles are nowhere near the severity of those of Richard Gere’s character who finds himself in quite a predicament in Arbitrage.

New York billionaire businessman Robert Miller (Richard Gere) seems to have it all – a loving family, successful business, all the things money can buy and, well, all the money, really. Alas, as they say, do not judge a book by its cover. His business is going under, his desperate attempts to save it are not working out, a mate he borrowed a large sum of money from is ready to collect and his mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta) is upset that between his family and work duties, he doesn’t have time for her.

Robert’s spiraling life spins way out of control when, during a late-night drive with Julie, the exhausted fellow crashes the car and his girlfriend dies. Fearing his family will find out, the scandal with will go public and therefore pending business deals jeopardized, Robert flees the scene. But as he soon realises that no matter how hard he tries to cover up his involvement in the accident, there is around 50 things he hasn’t thought of and before he knows it, the cops come knocking on his door.

This morally corrupt, self-destructive, slimy businessman is not exactly the type of person you would want for a best friend. The characterisation is unflinching and Gere is fearless in portraying someone so reprehensible. But it is Gere’s natural charisma that takes some of the edge off and we find ourselves hoping he isn’t caught – something that may leave audiences questioning later. This level of audience involvement is what boosts this slow burn thriller.

Singling out Gere’s natural charisma is not to say he cruises through this film based on his good looks and charm. He delivers possibly a career-best performance as a desperate man trying to save his own skin and, as the story progresses, we learn what lengths he will go to to make sure it happens, whether or not his family is hurt in the process. Gere relishes the chance to sink his teeth into such a complex character, something he has so few chances to do at this point in his career.

Teaming Gere with Susan Sarandon as his wife seems like a great idea at first but when the pair are called on later in the film to tackle some dramatic moments together, they clearly struggle. The responsibility does not completely fall on their shoulders as it is in the final third that this script fumbles, slightly letting down what has, up until this point, been a crackling thriller. What saves these shaky final minutes is the chilling ending. At the very least you will come out of this film grateful that your life isn’t as messed up as this bloke’s and maybe you won’t sweat the small stuff anymore, but at the most you will have seen a cracker of a film.

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