Saturday, September 15, 2012

In Theaters/On VOD: ARBITRAGE (2012)

(US/Poland - 2012)

Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki.  Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker, Stuart Margolin, Chris Eigeman, Reg E. Cathey, Josh Pais. (R, 105 mins)

Early word from the Sundance Film Festival this past January was that the financial thriller ARBITRAGE represented Richard Gere's best work in years.  It's been a while since he's had a hit movie, but he's been doing consistently good work, particularly in Antoine Fuqua's criminally underrated BROOKLYN'S FINEST (2010).  Acquired by Roadside Attractions, the arthouse wing of Lionsgate, and released on less than 200 screens nationally in addition to VOD, ARBITRAGE looks to be another top-notch Gere performance that few people will see.  It's a little disheartening that topical fare like this, for adults, is relegated to a distributor's arthouse subsidiary when 30 years ago, it would've been a major, popular film directed by a Sydney Pollack, a Sidney Lumet, or an Alan J. Pakula.  ARBITRAGE is written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, who made the 2005 documentary THE OUTSIDER (about veteran director James Toback) and comes from a family of documentary filmmakers:  brother Andrew directed CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (2003), and brother Eugene helmed WHY WE FIGHT (2005) and REAGAN (2011).  ARBITRAGE entertains as a thriller, but Jarecki's attempts to turn it into a metaphor for the recent financial crisis aren't always successful.

Big-time NYC hedge fund investment CEO Robert Miller (Gere) is in the process of selling his company, ostensibly to spend more time with his family as he hits 60 years of age, but it's really to deal with a $400 million loss in a botched Russian copper mine investment that's tied up overseas.  He's about to be audited as part of the process of selling his firm, so he's clandestinely borrowed $400 million from another firm in an attempt to get by the auditors.  That CEO wants his money back now and the CEO he's selling to seems to be avoiding him.  There's numerous other fudged numbers in the books that get uncovered by his daughter and protegee Brooke (Brit Marling).  As if Miller didn't have enough going on, his Bohemian artist mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta), whose work and lifestyle--expensive apartment, Mercedes, coke habit--are funded by Miller, is demanding more of his time and wants him to leave his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon).  Miller placates Julie with an impromptu romantic getaway, but briefly dozes at the wheel of her Mercedes and wrecks the car.  The accident kills Julie, and an injured Miller, with a cut on his head, broken ribs, and probable internal bleeding, flees the scene as the car goes up in flames.  His desperate attempt to cover up the accident ends up causing trouble for Jimmy (Nate Parker), the son of Miller's late former limo driver, when Miller calls Jimmy from a pay phone and asks him for a ride back to the city.  Miller's attorney (Stuart Margolin!) advises him to turn himself in immediately because no matter how well he's covered his tracks, they're going to trace it back to him.  Instead, Miller, who's spent his career taking chances and ignoring the odds, and became a billionaire for it, arrogantly assumes he can handle the situation on his own, even as it spirals more out of control by the minute.

Miller is a guy who sees everything as a business negotiation.  He doesn't count on the dogged street smarts of homicide detective Bryer (Tim Roth), a rumpled, unkempt, cynical sort who seems like a descendant of Columbo.  Bryer sees something fishy from the start, starting with Julie's charred body being in the passenger seat of the Mercedes ("Who kicked the driver's side door open?" he immediately asks his partner).  Jarecki seems to be setting up an interesting battle of wits--and economic class--between Miller and Bryer, but it gets dropped for a large chunk of the film and once Bryer re-enters the story, Jarecki has him do something so clownishly unlikely that it just doesn't ring true.  Miller figures he can finesse Bryer and Bryer, with his ill-fitting, wrinkled attire, slumped posture, four-day beard, and broad Noo Yawk accent, has a huge chip on his shoulder about "rich assholes" like Miller.  Jarecki wants to show how wheelers & dealers like Miller run the show and get off or get bailed out and Everymen like Bryer pay the price, but it's not handled in a credible way.  From the way Bryer is introduced and the way he's played by Roth, he's too wily to do what he ultimately does in an improbable third-act twist.  Miller is a guy who's always been able to get out of sticky situations, and it goes without saying that a guy who commits investment fraud, cheats on his wife, flees the scene of a fatal accident, and almost throws his own daughter under the bus with his off-the-books machinations, puts himself first and thinks he can emerge unscathed and likely will.  It's quite suspenseful watching a perfectly-cast Gere squirm, sweat, grimace, and panic as everything starts to fall apart.  The film's key line comes when Parker's Jimmy, who has a gun charge in his past and faces ten years in prison for obstruction unless he cooperates with Bryer, finally realizes that Miller views him as expendable and scoffs at a tactless attempt to buy his silence and pay him for any jail time with a $2 million trust:  "You think money's gonna fix this?"  An incredulous Miller replies "What else is there?"

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