Review: Arbitrage

'Look how self-justified corporate crooks think they are!'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Arbitrage is the latest “Richard Gere under pressure movie.” He’s both smooth talking  and frantic, and his character is a player in the economic crisis so it’s a relevant application of the Gere paradigm.

Robert Miller (Gere) is the CEO of a financial company hustling his latest deal amidst the economic downturn. He becomes involved in a police investigation which he tries to manage the same way he’s managed his investment, by arranging one scheme after another, but he’s always chasing down some loose end. Spoiler alert for real life: Miller is also one of those financial executives who’s cooked his books. The only question is how he did it, not whether or not he did.

I don’t want to spoil what the police investigation is for, but this is an interesting take on these financial hustlers. The situation illustrates that a white-collar guy ends up in a situation where basic decency is not an option. He’s got to fix it himself, instead of just doing the right thing. He’s so smart, he’s outsmarted himself into a house of cards, first in business and then in his real life.

Miller’s decisions are interesting. He risks dying rather than get caught. When he’s likely suffering internal bleeding, he chooses his appointments over going to the hospital. At that point he could use some arbi-triage. (Ha!) He never does seek physical treatment so I guess he lucked out there, but man, it’s so exhausting trying to manage every negotiation, audit or interrogation, it’s not even worth holding onto your money when all your time is spent keeping the plates spinning.

The crime side is a somewhat standard police drama with the corporate secrets incorporated. Tim Roth plays the detective and his interview/interrogations are great. He plays dumb but he’s really leading Miller, and he does it in a New York voice. It really is the Richard Gere show, but the notable costars include Brit Marling as Miller’s daughter Brooke. She has some powerful confrontations and owns the scenes she’s given.

The script by director Nicholas Jarecki does set up impossible situations and forces characters to make decisions, so that’s good drama. However, Jarecki’s script does have a bit of very on the nose speechifying. Look how self-justified corporate crooks think they are!

Some of the dialogue is just clunky, mixing in real zingers with pure placeholders. In one confrontation, Miller makes a tangential comment and his partner says, “Is that really what you came here to talk about?” Just have him say, “That’s none of your business, let’s stay focused.” You’re welcome. I’ll take a percentage of the VOD and DVD residuals.

Also the supporting characters don’t really have arcs. They just show up whenever the plot needs them to do something. The actors are quite good in their scenes, but the characters aren’t served. And yeah, that’s what supporting characters do, but it should feel organic, like they’re coming from some point of view at odds or in support of the protagonist.

Miller is actually a really good father and husband, but he’s a terrible boyfriend. He’s never there for his mistress and invades her privacy. The moment of success he gets to enjoy is poignant because it’s too late to be so proud. I find Arbitrage an accurate portrayal of how it never ends. There’s always some track to cover, someone you underestimated. I don’t think this was the point of the movie, but it convinced me that being a good person is the smarter play. Forget moral reasons, just being able to live up front and honest is better than constantly managing the Ponzi schemes you’ve created.

Photo Credit: Myles Aronowitz