Film Reviews

Is that Paco Rabanne you’re wearing--or is it money?

The return of Richard Gere lifts Arbitrage, but it’s still just an okay financial thriller

There’s nothing like $4l2 million to come between friends, and so it is in Arbitrage, an overinflated item on the movie market these days. When a hedge fund magnate (an excellent Richard Gere) needs to cover a “hole” in his books–the aforesaid sum–he borrows it, abstractly, from a friend, and then defaults on repaying it. His books aren’t that cooked, and he’s in deep trouble. As a result he more or less betrays his daughter (a partner), lies to his wife (the ubiquitous Susan Sarandon), and, later, involves a mysterious young black man he has earlier unofficially adopted.

Miller (Gere) is a slick, silver fox sleazebag: he cheats, sleeps around, has two mistresses, and covers up his misdeeds (including the death of one girlfriend) by putting the blame on others. When an aggressive cop (an amusing Tim Roth) decides to take Miller down, things get sticky.

Although it bills itself as a financial/political thriller (in the vein of Margin Call and Michael Clayton), it’s really just a melodrama with a finance pretext that lacks the specificity and sociopolitical implications of those two superior movies.

It’s a cheating-husband/father/friend movie with the money spect far too abstract to do more than exploit our current financial woes.

The acting, particularly by Gere, is far better than the writing and directing. The movie is good by turns and spurts but seems jerry-built, deriving from other entries in the genre. There’s a beautifully-staged car wreck, some telling arguments between husband and wife, and a couple of strong points made in an art show in which East Coast slickies buy “art” for investment purposes. There’s a plot surprise involving the cop, which, unfortunately, weakens a thematic aspect of the plot for the sake of surprise.

The movie has a realistic ending, easy enough in our climate of corruption and amorality, and it doesn’t close up all the loopholes. The most mysterious thing about this melodrama is the rave reviews it’s been receiving in the popular press. This is Gere’s best work since Chicago, and he makes part of the film work well, but not everyone (except Roth) delivers the goods believably.

The movie looks edited to speed things up in the last 20 minutes, giving short shrift to the explanation of the relationship between Gere and the young black man–and to the fate of one of Gere’s sleepovers.

The origins of the thriller genre (largely invented by Hitchcock) once involved either the “wrong man” theme or making the audience complicit in the guilt of the main character until it devolved into the spy action drama.

Movies like Arbitrage explore the genre without fully understanding its implications. Better you should check out Margin Call on Netflix, and see, for superior entertainment, how the Real Thing works.