by Gautaman Bhaskaran
At 63, Richard Gere still exudes that boyish charm we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in films like An Officer and a Gentleman and Pretty Woman, and it is this charisma that carries Nicholas Jarecki’s first feature, Arbitrage. As Robert Miller, a hedge fund manager on Wall Street, Gere plays a villain of sorts, albeit one who just cannot be hated.
Trying to palm off a company he had built from scratch through a merger he negotiates, craftily hiding its $-400-million debt – even from his daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), who is the chief accountant there – Miller is an uncanny combination of pre-infamy Bernie Madoff and Chappaquiddick Teddy Kennedy. He represents a world that is selfish, has no scruples and uses money to get away with some of the worst misdemeanours.
In a subplot, Miller is seen walking away from a terrible car accident where his lover, Julie Cote (former Victoria’s Secret model Laetitia Casta), is killed. He tries to wriggle out of the mess by asking Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of a former chauffeur, for help, putting the boy’s life and future in jeopardy. When things reach a flashpoint, Miller dangles millions to keep Grant with him.
The accident drives the movie into thriller territory with Tim Roth as detective Michael Bryer out to get Miller, and in his desperation to come on top, the cop even fabricates evidence to prove that Grant helped Miller. There are some punchy dialogues between the judge and the detective in the courtroom that lighten up an otherwise sombre drama, whose director deftly avoids the high moral ground.
Arbitrage may seem rather beaten especially for those who have worked on Wall Street or seen the film, Wall Street; Jarecki has been clearly inspired by it. What is more, although Arbitrage starts off as a work about big-time financial manipulation, it soon slips into a cat-and-mouse game played by Bryer and Miller. And the director fails to convince us about the detective’s singular obsession to trap Miller. In one of the final sequences, the turnabout of his wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon), is equally hard to believe. Why would a woman who had put up with her husband’s philandering for years suddenly want to push him to a corner?
The only person willing to be with Miller is Brooke, who discovers the fraud to her utter disbelief and shock. She knows that her father is a monster, at least on paper, and is so full of himself that he can commit the most sinister of crimes to protect himself and the empire he built. Yet, Jarecki allows Miller to manoeuvre her emotions in the way he wants to, and in the process, the director helps his lead character turn adorable.
Yes, this is one of Gere’s extraordinary abilities whereby he can get the audience to react exactly the way he wants it to. Miller, despite all his wrongs, takes the viewers along with him, and the movie’s last frame shows him in his magnetic best.
Will Arbitrage help Gere win an Oscar? He has never been nominated before, though surprisingly his co-stars in many of his films were, and in two cases, they even won. Writers have pointed out that Gere could effortlessly help others around him come out with their best, and what a contrast that is to his own role in Arbitrage. Maybe, at least this time, the Academy would not overlook the actor's great piece of acting.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)