JDIFF 2013 Review – Arbitrage

While trying to make a deal that will secure his future, hedge fund manager Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is involved in a violent incident that not only places his life in danger, but also brings Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) to his door. As well as this, Miller’s daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling) discovers some unpleasant truths about her father’s professional practice.

Arbitrage is a surprising film; not only is it about the lengths that a person goes to in order to hide from their own actions, but it can also be seen as allegory for the current financial crisis around the world. As Robert, Richard Gere knows that his professional practices have not always been above board, but he covers it up, just as he covers up his involvement in a violent incident that leaves another person dead. It’s not hard to draw comparisons with this situation and the banking practices that left Ireland, among other countries, on the brink of financial collapse.

Richard Gere has been rather quiet of late; he has been working consistently, but it has been a good number of years since he had a role in a major film. It’s a good job then, that as Robert Miller in Arbitrage, Gere gives one of the best performances of his career; one of dichotomies. Miller’s façade is cool and collected, but underneath, he is a man whose life is reaching a crisis point and he knows it. Gere allows the panic and fear to bubble under, and is engaging throughout the film. As well as this, he is the embodiment of a Wall Street powerhouse; charming but forceful and he knows exactly what he wants and how to get it although fate often conspires against him. Even though his character is not the kind we should root for, Gere’s performance is so strong that it is hard not to like the character who has created his own worst nightmare.

Tim Roth is the foil to Miller’s carefully ordered world. As the police detective investigating a fatal car crash, Roth shakes Miller just enough that pieces begin to fall by the wayside. Roth could do this kind of role with his eyes closed, and excels in the film; his curiosity and tenacity suits the character, and his charm and easygoing manner hide a multitude of menace that again, bubbles under the surface. Susan Sarandon plays the same kind of oppositional role as Miller’s wife Ellen. She does not have a whole lot to do, other than to stir up her husband, but she is gripping, as usual. The same goes for Brit Marling as Brooke; she excels in what little time she has on screen, but could have done with more time to round out the character, as it stands, she just ends up as an agitator.

Writer/Director Nicholas Jarecki has crafted a tense thriller that is not only well scripted and directed, but engaging and involving. Miller is a man hiding from a crime that he is utterly guilty of, but Jarecki has created the world and the story in such a way that we find ourselves rooting for this villain. The trouble is that we have seen this kind of film before, so even when the film is at its best, it feels somewhat familiar. As well as this, the female roles are sadly neglected.

Arbitrage is a clever thriller that is brilliantly paced. Roth and Gere get a chance to show off their acting skills, although the women fare a little less well. Where the film falls down, however, is a familiarity to the plot and characters, which gives us the feeling we know how all of this will end. Still, it is an impressive debut, and proves Jarecki as a filmmaker to watch out for.

Rating: 3.5/5

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