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MOVIE REVIEW: Arbitrage

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MORE THAN MONEY CAN BUY: Billionaire Robert Miller (Gere) and his wife (Sarandon).

ARBITRAGE

DIRECTOR: Nicholas Jarecki

CAST: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Nate Parker

CLASSIFICATION: 13LD

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

RATING: ****

There are few cinematic pleasures as satisfying to behold as an actor in a role that fits him like a Savile Row suit. Richard Gere offers just such gratification in Arbitrage, a silky, sophisticated Wall Street thriller that finds the actor utterly in his prime, wearing his age and wisdom with warmth, charisma and non-stop appeal.

That Gere’s character, a hedge-fund billionaire named Robert Miller, finds such immediate and sustained traction with the audience is anything from a foregone conclusion. Miller – a high-flying magnate who turns out to be starkly different from the virtuous captain of industry he resembles – could easily have been the kind of amoral anti-hero that made Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko so diverting in Wall Street and so grating in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

But in Gere’s smooth, subtly ingratiating characterisation, and through the smart writing and direction of first-time feature director Nicholas Jarecki, Arbitrage becomes far more complex than just dramatised anti-corporate polemic, or even a simple fall from grace. Throughout this timely, tightly constructed drama, Miller seems constantly to ask the audience: “Am I a bad good man or a good bad man?”

How about a little of both?

As Arbitrage opens, Miller is returning to New York from a meeting with a corporate titan named Mayfield, who is on the verge of buying one of Miller’s businesses. It just happens to be Miller’s 60th birthday, an event he celebrates with a family who include a gorgeous wife, played by Sarandon, and devoted daughter (Marling).

Miller has it all – the private plane, the well-appointed townhouse, the car and driver. As it turns out, though, he has much more than he needs, a surfeit that will take Arbitrage from high-gloss, 1 percent escapism to an increasingly gnarly corporatecrime thriller.

The ghost of Bernie Madoff haunts Arbitrage, which Jarecki was inspired to write after reading a series of articles in Vanity Fair about the financial meltdown. (That magazine’s editor, Graydon Carter, shows up for a diverting cameo in one of the film’s finest, sharply etched scenes.)

Indeed at times, the movie resembles one of those ripped-from-the-headlines episodes of Law & Order, stretched out to feature-length form. (It also resembles last year’s Wall Street indie hit, Margin Call, which shared a similar sense of pared-down style and coiled pacing.)

Arbitrage’s canvas may be small, but it manages to command a movie-scale sense of drama and glamour, largely thanks to Gere’s commanding performance. It also gets terrific supporting turns right down the line, from Sarandon and Marling’s subtle portrayals of women who have benefited from Miller’s largesse in radically different ways, to Nate Parker in a breakout performance as a young man drawn into Miller’s circle with potentially disastrous results.

At one point, Parker’s character, Jimmy – the galvanising moral centre of the film – tells Miller that one day he hopes to open an Applebee’s (a popular US bar and grill chain). “What’s an Applebee’s?” Miller responds.

Arbitrage is laced with these pungent moments, as redolent of their bifurcated economic times as any speech on the political stump. Bubbles burst and Arbitrage begins flying high over the concerns of mere mortals. Jarecki has made this truism enormously entertaining, with equal parts glistening light and end-of-an-era dread. – Washington Post

If you liked Margin Call or The Debt, you will like this.

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