Movie review: Arbitrage
Gere and Sarandon shine in a film about deception in the world of investment banking
Posted: April 3, 2013
A poison pen. Will Robert Miller sign away his company to protect his family or to protect himself?
A stylish thriller that doesn't shortchange us on the complexity of motivation, Arbitrage is a very accomplished production that uses immensely talented actors to tell a story of lies, deception and self-protection at the highest levels of capitalism.
Opening during his birthday celebrations, Robert Miller (Richard Gere), the founder and chief executive of the successful investment firm Miller Capital, professes his love for his family and says he will soon retire to spend more time with them as he is about to sell the company to an interested buyer.
His daughter, who is his chief investment officer, is nonplussed by the news and even admits she doesn't know what they would do if they spent more time together. Miller smiles a little condescendingly and sprints out the door to head back to the office.
However, it's not the office but rather his young French mistress he is visiting. This lie is quickly complemented by another (he is involved in very fraudulent practices in order to appear solvent so he can sell off his company), and then another, of a grisly, murderous variety.
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki
With Richard Gere, Nate Parker, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon
This final point will be one of the two pillars on which the stage is set for the action in the rest of the film. Miller is responsible for the death of his mistress and in his hour of need asks the 23-year-old son of his former limo driver to help him out.
But things seem like they will quickly spiral out of control, despite all the precautions Miller takes the night of the tragic accident. In a conversation with a legal adviser the following morning, he is warned it is nearly impossible to cover all his tracks in a situation like this.
Miller is now faced with two potentially life-threatening options: either he confesses to his role in the death of his mistress, which means he would lose his wife and his family just as he is about to retire, or he confesses to the fraud and goes to jail for 20 years, sending the company he has run his entire life down the drain, and his family with it.
He decides to try to control both of these by pushing for the acquisition as quickly as possible, thereby ensuring the future of the company even if the books are cooked. He also tries to pay off his guardian angel, Jimmy, the son of his former driver who helped him out, by having him keep quiet and swear ignorance of the entire matter.
But Jimmy, played by Nate Parker, is not like most people. He is tough, having already faced plenty of hardship in his life. The looming threat of a prison sentence for obstruction of justice - and potentially perjury, too - weighs heavy on his mind as the police, who know he is involved but can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, put the pressure on him to tell the truth and save his skin.
As the noose tightens around Miller's and Jimmy's necks, we can feel the tension building, but this tension is not the result of us simply empathizing with whoever might be the film's protagonist.
The tension is a product, primarily, of our interest in the well-being of the young Jimmy, who seems like a genuine good guy whose readiness to help out someone he doesn't know very well, someone with questionable moral standing but who was in need at 3 a.m., has now come back to bite him. We are rooting for Miller not to get caught, but it is because we are on Jimmy's side.
Director Nicholas Jarecki, who also wrote the screenplay, probably realizes where the viewer's sympathies lie, because the focus is more on this part of the story than it is on his shady business dealings. At the intersection of both crises is his family, and the bridge between the two potential disasters always passes through his wife, whose role, played by Susan Sarandon, is small but powerful. She has few scenes, but they are compelling and evoke quite a bit of emotion in the viewer. Watch out for a breathtaking visual, when Sarandon and Gere are on opposite sides of the bed at a crucial moment in the film.
Arbitrage is full of intrigue and genuine human drama, and even though the action mostly involves individuals who are used to paying off everyone around them to get what they want, the film itself thoroughly explores the motivations of its characters and the ethical dilemmas they face in situations that require great risk to flip an apparent lose-lose situation into a success.
André Crous can be reached at