Intriguing tale of crime and corruption spread itself too thin
Maybe the best thing that can be said about Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage is that it attempts to give us an inside view of the human dramas that may have played out among some of the highly leveraged engineers of economic calamity in the culture of our “Too Big to Fail” era.
That the film only partially succeeds in that attempt is an indication that Jarecki’s production never really sorts out the disparate agendas—social commentary, family tragedy, satire—that arise within its very current and provocative subject matter.
Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a celebrated hedge-fund manager. His perilously over-leveraged financial empire is on the edge of collapse, but he’s in the midst of some extravagantly felonious maneuvers designed to conceal that fact long enough to sell the company off at a grand profit.
Jarecki’s script gives us some glimpses of Miller’s skills in the politics of insider trading and boardroom manipulations, but the greater portion of attention goes to relationships that are both personal and professional—with his grandly supportive wife (Susan Sarandon), business partner/daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), his French mistress (Laetitia Casta), a deceased colleague’s very loyal son (Nate Parker). There’s also a deadly car crash, some domestic duplicity, more cover-ups, a bit of deal-making in the art world, a police investigation (with Tim Roth as a slouching NYPD detective), and some hard-sell negotiations with another mogul (Graydon Carter).
For all that, Jarecki and company rarely get beyond the sleekly ironic surfaces of these variously compromised characters. Gere’s Miller is consummately suave in his various deceptions and devotions, but when a beloved companion dies in an accident for which he is at least partly responsible, practical considerations obscure whatever grief and shame he might feel.
The film’s only really effective characterization arises from its lone stand-out performance—Sarandon as a kind of Wall Street “Lady Macbeth.”