Early on in first time feature director Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage Richard Gere's character Robert Miller (a character with less zing in his name than Gordon Gekko but just as much if not more zeal in his greed) talks about the only thing that truly matters in his life are the wonderful people that have come to fill it. He is thankful for what he says is truly important to him, but it quickly becomes clear what little emphasis those people have on Mr. Miller's day to day decisions no matter how much he himself likes to think so. In what has become a rather interesting career Gere fills the shoes of this Bernie Madoff-like billionaire whose world begins to crumble after several years of fraudulent activities very well. Gere has become an actor who is now more regarded as safe and uninspired than he is the daring, diverse handsome face many people expected him to become after 2002's double whammy of Unfaithful and Chicago. In the ten years that have passed since his Golden Globe win for the latter Gere has gone more in the direction of standard roles for someone of his age and stature only every now and then wandering off the beaten path for such interesting work as The Hoax, I'm Not There, and even the underrated Brooklyn's Finest. Here, he again  proves he can be just as interesting as he can sometimes be bland. As the film plays out carried by a story we recognize and for the most part realize, where it is going, we are not as much bothered by that as we are pleased with how well it uses it to its own advantage. The ins and outs of what Miller is managing pull us in while outside forces push us to understand who he really is, and what actually is important to the man.

Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) is hot on the trail of
Robert Miller for what he thinks is a closed case.
The ideal picture of success is how we first come to meet Robert Miller. He is at a level of wealth few could ever imagine, a level where he doesn't even know what an Applebee's is. We meet him on the eve of his 60th birthday where he makes that earlier referenced speech. He is seemingly, happily married to (a slighted) Susan Sarandon with two children who have inherited fine lives from their fathers empire. Emphasis is especially placed on daughter Brooke (the wonderful Brit Marling) who operates as her fathers CFO, and is thoroughly going through the companies books in the middle of a merger. Miller is selling his company but is borrowing a small $400 million to cover a hole in his accounts. This is all on its own ripe enough with drama that the layers of keeping his faults and compromises secret from his family is only escalated when he gets in a car wreck. Oh, the car wreck that not only involves him but also his French mistress. Of course he has a French mistress and yes that is very predictable but wouldn't it be weird if he didn't? You expect a guy with that amount of money, with that big of an ego not to feel contained by what us mere mortals find so much value in? Of course you don't and that is why he has dug himself a deep hole. They are in her car, she dies instantly and he escapes only to entangle another poor, useless soul into the mix. None of this places Mr. Miller at the scene, but his investment in the woman links him for questioning from the detective on the case (a great, surprising turn from Tim Roth).

Robert Miller (Richard Gere) and wife Ellen (Susan
Sarandon) share a moment with no substance.
The beauty of it all is the fact that we should naturally, without question find Miller despicable. He is a greedy, soulless man who has no idea what real struggle is. He is the embodiment of the 1% and yet the script and Gere do such a great job we find ourselves rooting for him. We see him not for what the social constructs would paint him as but instead as an actual living, breathing person with feelings. We see his stress and his anger, we can almost taste the tension and arrogance that rolls off every scene that deals with Miller facing off against Roth's Detective Bryer. We watch as a man who has become accustomed to getting whatever he desires struggle to make up for years of floating by on ease that he didn't likely deserve. It is not that of a typical fall from grace either. I won't spoil any more plot points here, but as far as story we have seen these kinds of events play out before (the more economic, less emotional version of this film being last years underrated Margin Call) yet we never see Arbitrage take the route of an anti-corporate stance or typical rising of the little man to conquer the ubiquitous "they". No, instead the little man is almost made out to be the bad guy here. Miller has come to be in his position of power and wealth for a reason and those reasons likely have nothing in common with being stupid or even compassionate. Those qualities make the character not only intriguing but interesting to watch because no matter how much we think we may know him, his decisions will likely keep surprising us. The way in which the circumstances of Miller's situation are discussed so casually even take us off guard. In the end though, it is everyone around him that ends up taking the hit and succumbing to his best interests for no matter how cold he can be he never becomes an archetype. He remains consistently complex.

Brooke (Brit Marling) is shocked and discouraged by
the actions of her father after realizing the truth.
It is with that ability to take a character so easily judged and turn him into someone we not only feel sympathy for, but hope he comes out on top despite his wrongdoings that the film succeeds. I am not one who pretends to know everything about the content in which this film tackles and in many ways that sometimes makes me fear a film in that I will be unable to comprehend all of what is going on. The motivations and the consequences for actions and why certain things might have come to be. Still, even in this complicated, high-stakes world he is a man who has to make decisions as we all do on a daily basis. There are films made about people like him simply because those decisions are on a much larger scale. The performances are all strong, but it is Gere who rightly steals the show and carries the responsibilty of translating Jarecki's attitude towards the wealthy with such genuine grace. In fact, what is so stirring is that writer and director Jarecki has no judgements of his own towards his character but instead is able to create a fully fleshed out human being who functions in his world truthfully. He wants us to judge him, and he wants us to see that all isn't always as it appears. That to every situation therein lies details and relationships that make it so much more complicated than an episode of 48 Hours might otherwise indicate. The line is not so clearly defined. We are made to ask ourselves what we might do were we in Miller's shoes and how close that answer skews to what unfolds on screen may scare you. Thus is the power of the film and a testament to the talent of a new writer and director whose career hopefully flourishes.


1 comment:

  1. Good reference with Gordon Gekko. This would make a perfect double feature with Wall Street. Nice review!

    P.S. Blogspot makes leaving comment incredibly hard. I had to verify I wasn't a bot over 10 times before it would let me post.