Friday, September 28, 2012

Arbitrage (2012) - Movie Review

I was interested in getting some insight into what Arbitrage was and how it related to the film, so I looked it up and found that, 'arbitrage' loosely translates to 'rich, white people problems.'  Okay, I made that up.  In all seriousness, I couldn't figure out how actual arbitrage had anything to with Arbitrage.

Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge fund manager who's in the process of selling his company.  He's also trying to cover up a $400 million dollar loan being used to cook his books and cover for a loss until the sale goes through.  I was never really quite clear on what the deal was with this $400 million, and even when it was explained later, I still wasn't.  Like last year's Margin Call, you never quite understand the financials or what they're are talking about, but at least Margin Call feels like a smart movie that knew what it was talking about.  Arbitrage felt like it was faking it's way through it.

Miller has a lovely and supporting wife (Susan Sarandon), so naturally he's cheating on her with an emotionally-unstable artist that's half his age (Laetitia Casta).  The movie sets up Miller as an unlikable asshole and never does anything to make you root for him as the movie goes on.

One night he goes for a drive with his mistress, and gets into a car wreck that kills her.  He flees the scene, which was stupid because he's pretty much the only guy anyone would suspect, and contacts an old acquaintance, Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), to use as an alibi.  It takes only hours before the lead police detective (Tim Roth) is questioning his role in the accident.  Miller knows that if this gets out, it will kill the sale of his company, not to mention expose the $400 million he's hiding, so he's trying to deal with both cover-ups simultaneously.  It's here where the movie kind of lost me.  What was this movie trying to be?  A financial thriller or a crime thriller?  In trying to be both simultaneously  it felt a little all over the place, and it really hurt the film.  Each story could have been told separately.  In fact, this felt like something that should have been on a TV series, like a season of Damages.

As the cops get closer to nailing him, he continues to lean heavily on Jimmy to keep up the alibi. You continue to get irritated with Miller, because you realize that he picks this one guy in his world he knows won't rat on him.  Even when faced with a prison term, Jimmy won't rat him out. He continues to string Jimmy along, begging him to be patient until he can take care of his business. At one point, even Jimmy's girlfriend tells him to give him up, and by then I wish he had, too. Miller didn't deserve that kind of loyalty, and it was clear Jimmy was being taken advantage of.

I credit the performance of Richard Gere for being able to make Robert Miller compelling to watch even though there is no reason at all to like him.  He's doing shady business dealings, lying to everyone, cheating on his wife, and taking advantage of someone to keep his ass out of trouble. Model citizen, huh?  Anyway, Gere carries the movie and it's one of his better roles in recent memory.

Maybe this was the point, but the worst part of this, is despite all of this - SPOILER ALERT - there's no consequence to any of his actions, other than his wife leaving him.  You're actually glad she leaves him at the end.  Were they trying to make a statement saying that evil, rich business men get away with cheating and murder?  There's also something the police do at the end that made me scratch my head at how ridiculous it was.  It undermined the movie a little bit because it gave Miller's character an out he didn't deserve.

Besides Gere, Arbitrage features a very strong supporting cast.  I always like Tim Roth, and here he plays streetwise cop that knows Miller is guilty and really wants to see him burn.  He's a little corny at times, but it seems like he had fun with the role.  I'm sure he's hoping he'll get a chance to play a variation of his character from Lie to Me, and I'd like to see that.  Susan Sarandon has a great scene at the end, but she's barely in it.  Then again, she's been in so much stuff lately that maybe she only had a day or two to shoot her scenes.  Their daughter is played by Brit Marling, and while I really enjoyed her in Another Earth, I felt she was very flat here.  The guy the really surprised me was Nate Parker.  He ends up being the only really sympathetic character in the film and showed some nice internal conflict and range.

Arbitrage was written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, and it's once again another movie that suffers from not quite knowing what it's identity is.  It actually felt like something that could have been a adaptation of a novel, but then they couldn't figure out what to get rid of to make it all fit in a movie, so they just left everything in.  He did a good job with the performances and I did feel like there was some tension, but there were a few too many plot holes for me to get much out of the story.

Arbitrage is a movie that feels like it's being trotted out as Oscar bait, and while there is a pretty compelling performance by Richard Gere, the movie itself is too uneven to say it elevates to those heights.  It's not a bad movie, but it's not as good as it thinks it is, and ends up being kind of forgettable.  It's a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

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