Even when adding subplots involving a deadly cover-up, crooked cops, and a shaky marriage, it’s still hard to make a compelling film set against the backdrop of investment banking. Luckily, Arbitrage overcomes potentially dry material with some great performances and a solid cat and mouse story where the mouse is being chased by dozens of cats through several different houses.
Richard Gere, in his best performance and role in the better part of a decade, stars as Robert Miller, a hedge fund manager about to usher in his 60th birthday under a cloud of suspicion. He’s on the verge of being investigated for leveraging his fledgling company against his own attempts to sell it to someone who keeps playing an intense game of hardball. As all this is happening, the seemingly well adjusted man goes to see his mistress on the night of his birthday and ends up accidentally killing her in an auto accident. Desperate to save face and ensure the sale goes through (and eventually to stave off any potentially lengthy jail time), Robert covers up his misdeeds, drawing the suspicions of his daughter and co-manager (Brit Marling) and the cop assigned to investigate the accident (Tim Roth).
Gere hasn’t had a role this meaty and well rounded in far too long, and his engagement with the material shows. He races through the film with equal parts extreme exhaustion and nervous energy to the point where the bags under his eyes seem entirely real and not just a trick of the make-up department. His chemistry with those around him – particularly with Susan Sarandon as his possibly clueless wife, Nate Parker as the one man he can trust, and especially Marling with whom he shares the best scene in the film when they finally confront one another – gives the film a lot of it’s strength.
As a director, Nicholas Jarecki (making his first foray into fictional longform filmmaking) can direct actors well and sustain tension, even if some of the choices in the editing and cinematography departments occasionally leads to some head scratching. As a writer, however, Jarecki’s brings an almost claustrophobic feeling to the material, closing the viewer off in one small, singular world that just so happens to have potentially global consequences. As Robert’s lies begin to pile up, Jarecki’s story becomes more and more stomach churning and emotionally weighty.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anything about finance or that the title refers to a form of deal making designed to minimize losses between different markets of currencies. Arbitrage aims to entertain rather than educate to a great degree, and in that respect it posts a net gain by the end of the film.