a r b i t r a g e
1st March 2013
Gere, Gere, Gere
14th March 2013
We love Richard Gere. He inspires very conflicting feelings in heterosexual men and very clear feelings in most heterosexual women, always has done. And he is always the best thing in the film he’s in. On many occasions, probably more than he’d like, this is because he’s the only good thing in the film he’s in. But when the planets align and he gets the right film, he is a sight to behold. And so it is for Arbitrage.
A relatively low-key release, it’s unlikely this one is going to be troubling too many ‘must-see’ lists, which is a shame because it is, in its own way, a pretty much perfect movie. That’s not to say it’s the best movie we’ve ever seen, not by a long way, but it does everything it sets out to do and it does it right. More importantly, Gere does it right.
Arbitrage tells the sordid tale of rich people getting away with it. And somehow leaves you if not fine with that, at least having to re-think why you disliked them. Which is probably why it’s so good. Gere’s character is, on many levels, a thoroughly abhorrent individual. At one point, a character asks him ‘You think you can fix this with money?’ The response? ‘What else is there?’ It’s not a grandstanding response from a copy and paste stereotype Bob Diamond clone. It’s a very human, almost plaintive response because that’s all he knows and he’s baffled that others don’t understand that.
Briefly, the plot revolves around an outwardly successful banker in New York whose whole family is in some way involved in the business he has built. Any of his family who don’t directly work for him, are in some way benefitting from the millions his work brings in. This cosy situation is at first undermined then completely battered by Miller’s (Gere) desperate attempts to cover up both fraud (‘a bad bet’) and manslaughter (of his mistress). All this whilst being pursued by Tim Roth’s fantastic turn as Detective Bryer, a man sick of watching from the sidelines as the rich just do whatever they want.
There isn’t much of the above synopsis that we haven’t seen before in other finance based dramas but the witty script’s total commitment to not picking sides not telling us which is good and which is bad sets this aside. And just when we think we have Miller pegged as a greedy banker, he shows his true colours. In one short scene, the film utterly demonstrates the drive behind Miller and presumably others in his position. It’s not the money, it was never the money, it’s the complete devotion to winning. Miller finally sits down in a restaurant with a CEO whose company is in merger talks with Miller’s and in a couple of minutes of bartering; we see what makes him tick. He walks out of the restaurant and in Gere’s face you can see all the extraneous issues fall away. You can almost visibly see the blood returning to Miller’s body. And you feel it too. The exhilaration is passed on to the audience and you understand why. You also understand how. Which is almost as significant by then.
Nobody in the cast here puts a foot wrong. It’s nothing short of joyous to see Tim Roth back on the screen and nailing a role that seems doomed from the outset. We want Tim back more. We’ve covered Gere above but, it’s well worth mentioning Brit Marling as his daughter and Susan Sarandon as his wife. Marling in particular excels as the boss in waiting, idolizing her father right up to the point that realization dawns. Sarandon drifts in and out of the movie in perfect time to show large sections of Miller’s life lived entirely without knowledge of his wife.
And the ending is perfect. It’s perfect because it stops just as you realize what’s about to happen next. Or at least, I felt I knew. Maybe others will take different things from it, but I won’t spoil it by discussing it here. Maybe we’ll do that in a spoilers feature at some point. Doesn’t matter, go and see this film. Go now, I’ll pay you two million dollars if you do.