With the wide gap of wealth between the haves and have-nots in the United States only getting larger, a timely film like ARBITRAGE shines a light on what those with money and high-level connections can get away with that the rest of us can’t – like lie, cheat, steal, murder, etc. It shows that the idea of a level playing field doesn’t exist, even when it comes to the law, because, if you have the resources, you’re nearly untouchable. A person can in fact be too big to fail.
In this case, that person is Richard Gere, who plays Robert Miller, CEO of Miller Capital. He’s made his fortune betting against the market, because, as he learned from his parents who lived through the Depression, Pearl Harbor and the bomb, he doesn’t think bad things are going to happen, he knows it. Those lessons apply to his regular life as well, where whether it’s trying to close a deal for the sale of his company that may collapse, or a shortfall in his finances, or the accidental death of his mistress, Robert always seems to have a play. He has top-notch lawyers at his disposal, money ready to be lent his way, shrewd negotiating tactics, loyal friends and sharp intelligence that allows him to remain unscathed regardless of how close to the edge he gets.
ARBITRAGE takes its best shot at taking down a man of his stature with a wily police detective (Tim Roth), who is fueled by the knowledge that one day he’s going to catch one of these bastards straight-up in a position where who they are and what they have can’t help them. It doesn’t matter if the alibis are solid or the physical evidence at the moment is lacking, Roth’s experience on the job has him all over Robert and his accomplice Jimmy (Nate Parker), who have a history together, and he’s got a feeling he’s going to nail them one way or another. But how do you do that when even as your target makes mistakes, they have the means to fix them quickly, as if they never even happened?
What makes ARBITRAGE interesting is that Gere and writer-director Nicholas Jarecki are able to take a character that should be a slimy scumbag under any other circumstances and render him as somewhat sympathetic. There’s a part of you that doesn’t want to see him get caught, regardless of all the immoral things he’s done over time to get further ahead. There’s no question that Robert believes whatever ends justify the means, but Gere is able to soften the character from being a slick snake oil salesman of sorts to being a man who’s believes he’s doing what’s right for his family, his girlfriend, his employees, etc. He isn’t as clear-cut a bad guy for you to be wholeheartedly invested in his downfall, as Jarecki makes him far more complicated than that.
The film is able to keep you on your toes, as it invites your participation to continue guessing exactly where it’s going to go next. As Robert deals with the deterioration of his life on two fronts – home and business – ARBITRAGE is never as simple as watching a man fall from great heights. There is no black or white, only various shades of grey. With strong supporting performances by an optimistically naïve Brit Marling and a fierce Susan Sarandon, ARBITRAGE is able to create thrills for a film that deals greatly with the financial sector. That’s no easy task, causing me to buy on this film.
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