It was at precisely the moment when Richard Gere was revealed to be Cassius, of “the killing machine” fame, in 2011’s action thriller, The Double, that I thought aloud to myself, “Wait. What?” This was followed by a barrage of thoughts, all of which I continued thinking aloud to myself: “Oh My God! Did Richard Gere just kill Stephen Moyer with his bare hands? Didn’t his back hurt? Why is there no Julia Roberts in this film? Why is this film not a romantic comedy? Is that what Topher Grace’s face actually looks like when he tries to act? What was Richard Gere thinking??”
Let’s be straight: Richard Gere is no Robert De Niro, much less Liam Neeson. He has never come close to winning an Oscar, and for good reason. He is 60, but when he does one of those roles where he’s required to be effortlessly charming or sweet (like in his last few, The Hoax, The Hunting Party and Hachi), he is terrific *and* looks 40 – maybe even 35, if the make up’s good. In The Double, he was terrible (and the film already had a Topher Grace). In Brooklyn’s Finest, he was overshadowed by every other actor by a long mile. So before I saw his new thriller, Arbitrage, there was only one question on my mind: Why is Gere trying to fix what’s not broken?
Two hours later, Richard Gere had managed to pull a Cassius on my skepticism.
In Arbitrage, Gere plays Robert Miller, the smart, hard-working, multi-million hedge fund CEO, who is trying to close a merger that will benefit his employees, and the wonderful, loving family man, who is planning a retirement adventure with his wife (Susan Sarandon).
But once the covers start coming off, Gere is also Robert Miller, the fraudulent, dishonest head of a failing company, who is fighting a losing battle to leave a legacy, and the lying, philandering husband and father, who is lavishing his time and remaining money on an exotic 20-something (Laetitia Casta). And as is usually the case with the fates, it all comes crashing down one fine day.
While you expected the inevitable twist in the tale, debutant writer-director Nicholas Jarecki’s carefully plotted screenplay and admirable direction makes every subsequent twist and turn seem sharper than the last one. There’s nothing here that you haven’t already seen, and the movie reaffirms Hollywood’s age-old belief that the Wall Street guys are evil (if they are the lead) and stupid (if they are the support cast). But the tension in the atmosphere, well aided by the original music from Cliff Martinez, and the fine acting from all quarters makes this film a far superior one than it may have seemed on paper.
Every actor makes a contribution: Tim Roth, as the cocky detective, Brit Marling (of Another Earth fame) as the conflicted daughter, and most of all, Nate Parker (Red Tails), who is fantastic as the likely fall guy. Parker’s performance in the film will be a big boost to the young black actor community, which has, of late, run woefully short of talent, with the notable exception of Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau).
But in this taut film, it is Richard ‘Cassius’ Gere, who proves beyond doubt – the man’s still got it (and he’d probably kill me with his bare hands for making back pain jokes). Gere steals each scene he is in, and makes you both love him and hate him, makes you both despise him and pity him, makes you want to see him both punished and saved. That’s because Gere’s Robert Miller knows he is a bad guy but believes he’s a good one, and it’s when Miller grapples with his inner demons to figure which side he really belongs to, that the audience is in for a Gere special.
‘Oscar buzz’ is going a bit too far, but Arbitrage deserves a watch for being a well-concocted thriller, and possibly Gere’s most important public work since his 2007 kiss to Shilpa Shetty. I kid, Mr Gere.
Arbitrage is playing in theatres across India.