MOVIE REVIEW: Arbitrage

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ARBITRAGE-- 3 STARS

I'll admit right off the bat that I did not know the meaning of the word "arbitrage" before seeing Arbitrage.  I'll let the dictionary help both of us out.  "Arbitrage," according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has two meanings and was first used in 1875.  This gives away one of my lessons later, but we need this.  The first definition is "the nearly simultaneous purchase and sale of securities or foreign exchange in different markets in order to profit from price discrepancies."  The second is "the purchase of the stock of a takeover target especially with a view to selling it profitably to the raider."  If that sounds like Greek to you, join the club.  That said, let me just say the definition of Arbitrage just scratches the surface to what really develops throughout the film.  To give the title some merit, arbitrage is, in fact, the overriding plot angle of Arbitrage.  

Richard Gere, who's been far too underused in the last decade, plays Robert Miller, a hedge fund superstar who's up to exactly what the two definitions of the title spell out.  Despite a family man image that includes his daughter Brooke (up-and-coming actress Brit Marling) as his business protege and more charitable contributions than you can count, he is desperately trying to sell his company to a group controlled by James Mayfield (a nice cameo from real-life editor of Vanity Fair Graydon Carter).  However, Miller's company is over $400 million in the hole, thanks to a bad investment overseas in Russia.  To fill that gap and steer away the audit investigators who stand between the completion of the sale and an absolute total loss, Robert has borrowed, cheated, and doctored the company ledgers to push this false sale through.

The scary part is that no one knows it yet and he's poised to get away with it.  To add more merit badges on his "Evil Rich Man" sash, Robert has been lying to his long-time wife (Susan Sarandan) by carrying on an affair with a French artist (model Laetitia Casta) who wants more than than just his used time.  Soon enough, quite the "predicament" happens that throws everything in Arbitrage into turmoil.  I'm going to leave this event with the "predicament" label as to not spoil the intrigue (and shame on other reviews out there for giving this away).

Needless to say, trouble mounts when Miller has to call in a favor with a Harlem resident Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker of Red Tails), the son of a former employee, to help deal with this "predicament."  Investigative authorities, led by by Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), start to sniff around both Grant and Miller.  This happens around the same that Brooke starts to figure out the discrepancies of this big business deal.  Between those two pressure points, Arbitrage squeezes Robert Miller into action.

All of Arbitrage revolves around a standout performance by Richard Gere.  As I mentioned earlier, he has been far too underused over the last several years and this is a part he completely sinks his teeth into.  At 63, Gere is still easy on the eyes and ears and that serves him well to manipulate and soften this role of a downright evil person.  On paper, this is a role for a Michael Douglas type who exudes the reptilian darkness  on all levels, but, because Gere is so understated and smooth, he nearly makes you root for the bad guy to get away with it all.  Because of that swing and result, Gere is masterful to elevating this film higher than a Law and Order episode.  He's allowed to get the awards consideration being touted for this role.

After Gere, the rest of the Arbitrage cast is a step down.  Oscar winner Susan Sarandon has been colossally better in many other "wife" roles than this one.  Brit Marling may be the next "It Girl" at some point, but she's not given much other than the "voice of dissent" part.  Even Tim Roth, who normally runs away with stolen scenes in small pivotal roles, is given just a putter for the mini-golf of Arbitrage compared to the wit, gusto, and 18-holes of his Lie to Me TV role.  Only Nate Parker seems to keep up with Gere in their scenes together.  Nice work, young man.

Arbitrage is still a worthy film to see this fall season.  It offers timely questions and enough entertaining mystery to play off of our tough economic times.  Writer and first-time director Nicholas Jarecki (writer of The Informers, another little-seen thriller) puts together an above average first time effort worthy of attention.  It may not be as loaded and good as 80's classics like Wall Street or even last year's Margin Call, but Arbitrage, thanks to Richard Gere, is worth a look.

LESSON #1: THE DEFINITION OF "ARBITRAGE"-- As I mentioned at the beginning, I admitted to not being business-savvy enough to know what the movie's title meant.  Thanks to the dictionary and also the movie's business plot, I sure do now.  Boy, am I glad I'm just an educator, free of the slime of the business world (well, kind of, right striking Chicago teachers?).

LESSON #2: MAINTAINING THE APPEARANCE OF SUCCESS-- For Robert Miller, money is the key to maintaining the appearance of success.  In his mind, money drives him and defines him, his stature, his success, his legacy, and his family's livelihood.  For the rest of us, that trigger might not be money, but, make no mistake, it's something.  We all have that measuring tool, whether its a big house, nice clothes, a great body, a big family, a job title, etc., that is our visible sign of success that we seek.

LESSON #3: BUILDING LIE UPON LIE-- Once you crack under pressure and tell one lie, it doesn't end there.  You may feel off the hook, but you rarely are.  That one lie has to now be your story forever and more lies are likely created to reinforce the first one.  When the lies build up, they become hard to keep up with and harder to hide.  Eventually, you're going to get called on your lies.