Tuesday, September 18, 2012
"Arbitrage" is a well-made and perfectly watchable financial-world thriller that ultimately doesn't amount to a hill of beans. Richard Gere turns in a solid lead performance as Robert Miller, a Wall Street wizard who, it turns out, made a big bet on a Russian copper mine that's dried up. To plug the hole, he borrows $400 mil from a fat-cat crony, finesses the books, and goes on with the show of success. Meantime, he cheats on his philanthropically minded wife (Susan Sarandon) with a would-be French artist who ends up dead one night under circumstances that, if made public, could imperil the life-saving acquisition of his firm by a conglomerate. Tim Roth tightens the screws as the police detective who believes Miller was involved in the death and "shouldn't get away with it just because he's on CNBC."
To some extent, "Arbitrage" necessarily suffers by comparison to last year's superbly written "Margin Call." It lacks that film's intimate insider knowledge of economic markets. (Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki has crafted considerably sharper dialogue for the exchanges between characters than Miller's speeches, which sound like a composite of a dozen Barron's articles.) Brit Marling, such a strong screen presence in her "Another Earth" last year and "Sound of My Voice" this year, holds her own against Gere as his daughter and chief investment officer, who wants to turn him in when she learns of his misdeeds. Nate Parker tries valiantly but can't redeem the part of Gere's unwilling accomplice, whose motivations remain incomprehensible throughout. And the ending is a gyp: Sure, there are as many crooked cops as moguls, but the best part of "Arbitrage" is watching Gere's web of lies entrap him and his world slowly implode. It should have stayed true to itself to the last.