Depending on who you ask, the most dangerous people on the planet right now are the 1% in control of the trillions and billions of dollars that belong to other people. That’s largely a political belief, and whether you agree will have a lot to do with how far you are to the left in the political landscape. But even those for free-market principles would have to agree that the power held by these figures can be concerning. So what happens if one of these financial giants messes up?
That’s the question that runs Arbitrage, about Robert Miller (Richard Gere) – a CEO of giant hedge fund organization – who drops the ball. Miller has been celebrated for his foresight in the market but, at the top of the world, he decides its time to sell his company and retire to his gorgeous Manhattan home centered around a chandelier so opulent, it drops to the floor in the center stairwell.
He’s done very well for himself, but it doesn’t take much of a shake to see Miller’s king-of-the-world lifestyle start to rattle and drop, affecting his company, his wife, his friends and even his children.
Arbitrage is the kind of movie that Hollywood is afraid of greenlighting but that they need desperately – smart thrillers about smart adults that doesn’t compromise its intelligence to appeal to the surging middle-school demographic. It doesn’t need a Bikini scene or a second banana to crack jokes; instead it’s fine with being a fascinating kerfluffle that is fully engrossing as Miller’s problem is further exposed. After the film takes hold, it doesn’t let go until its last shot cuts to black.
Arbitrage is written and directed by first-time fictional feature writer/director Nicholas Jarecki, who at 33 years old is making filmmaking look frustratingly easy. His script effortlessly divides its time between the storylines of Miller and a large cast of supporting characters – played by a skilled bunch that includes Brit Marling and Nate Parker. (The only false note is Tim Roth, playing a New York detective that would fit better in a pulpy episode of Law & Order).
What the screenplay does best is present a protagonist that is neither deserving nor entirely undeserving of our sympathies. Gere’s appropriately light presence allows the morally ambiguous character to come upfront and center for your judgement – what he’s done isn’t reprehensible, but can we defend his actions? Even with all the shades of grey in his past, you can’t help but root for him as he tries to climb his way out of his problems.
As Robert Miller goes from problem to problem, one tense conversation follows another to the point that you can’t believe he hasn’t already collapsed under the stress of his own words.
Arbitrage, on the other hand, is an airtight thriller of the economic titans that avoids becoming preachy or sentimental. It knows better than to get bogged down in any kind of politcal message. Instead, it focuses on character and story to be the best thriller it can be.