‘Arbitage’, the feature-directing debut of writer Nicholas Jarecki, is a taut and alluring suspense thriller about love, loyalty, and high finance. When we first meet New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) on the eve of his 60th birthday, he appears the very portrait of success in American business and family life. But behind the gilded walls of his mansion, Miller is in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading empire to a major bank before the depths of his fraud are revealed. Struggling to conceal his duplicity from loyal wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and brilliant daughter and heir-apparent Brooke (Brit Marling), Miller’s also balancing an affair with French art-dealer Julie Cote (Laetetia Casta). Just as he’s about to unload his troubled empire, an unexpected bloody error forces him to juggle family, business, and crime with the aid of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a face from Miller’s past. One wrong turn ignites the suspicions of NYPD Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), who will stop at nothing in his pursuits. Running on borrowed time, Miller is forced to confront the limits of even his own moral duplicity. Will he make it out before the bubble bursts?
Is it worth it to abandon your morals if it gets you ahead? Would you trade everything for all the riches of the world? Would you give your soul for money?
These questions are, on the surface, very easy to answer. Not many of us would trade it all for any amount of money. (At least that is the pat answer, right?) Arbitrage is brilliant because it makes us question how we feel about a character that has done that very thing and more. We should hate him and look down our noses at his horrible decisions, but do we? Corporate fraud has never been made to look so…okay. Only a talented actor like Richard Gere could pull something like that off.
Gere plays Robert, the president of a major investment firm. He is not the type of man that you will love very much, as he is completely devoid of morals. It is unclear as to whether this was true in the beginning, but you get the feeling that it developed as the need to lose them came along.
Robert is in debt for 412 million bucks, and his investment corporation is a crumbling mess. There are losses due to audits and fraud and he is trying to unload the company to a rival so that he might get out from under this horrid mess. The loan is what is covering his crimes and the sale of the corporation is what will repay the loan. Otherwise, Robert will spend upwards of twenty years in prison.
Despite this intensity in his work life, Robert manages to come home to wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and his daughter Brit (Brooke Marling) to enjoy some family time. His con man abilities keeps them completely out of the loop even while he is out cavorting with a mistress named Julie (played with fervor by Laetitia Casta), a notable art dealer.
************Spoiler Alert! Plot details are discussed a bit deeper after this point. Do not read further if you do not want to know what happens************
Julie is angry with Robert and pushes him about details of their relationship. Robert gets upset and is feeling the pressure of work, home and carrying a mistress on the side. He and Julie decide to take a ride in the country to work on things and he flips the car when he falls asleep at the wheel.
From here, he makes the decision to leave the scene despite Julie being dead in the car and he enlists the help of a former employee’s son Jimmy. (Nate Parker)
From this point on, this movie delves deeply into the life of a man that has trading everything for an empty existence. What makes the movie so enthralling is that Jarecki manages to make us become almost hopeful for Robert despite his many horrible deeds. There is no judgment in the flick from the director or the script, really. It is simply about what is. When you are able to separate yourself from the story in this way and allow the audience to make their own way through, you have something truly special up on the screen.
Robert is clearly the star of this show and his self-deluded thoughts bring to mind the old saying that one begins to believe one’s own lies. Robert is certainly a poster child for that thought. How the story ends is almost secondary to how you wish it could. That is a fantastic way to leave a movie…with each of us thinking.