Arbitrage—buying low and selling high—depends on a person’s ability to determine the true value of any given market. It’s a talent that has made Robert Miller the very portrait of success in American business. But on the eve of his sixtieth birthday, Miller finds himself desperately trying to sell his trading empire to a major bank before the extent of his fraud is discovered. Starring Richard Gere as a New York hedge fund manager whose structured family life, secretive affair and upper-class lifestyle threatens to collapse under the possible exposure of his fraudulent trading tactics.
Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, ‘Arbitrage’ brings a reasonably well constructed but ultimately familiar tale of deceit to the big screen. The film manages a small group of characters effectively early on, but by the conclusion it suffers from some clumsy narrative and what is too modest a running time for the tale being told.
Things start of relatively straight forward and the film slowly brings the pieces together revealing new layers of depth behind the characters and their respective situations. Jarecki maintains a slow simmer for the bulk of the film, with things building up towards a dramatic finale as the central character attempts to control events that are spiralling beyond his control. The film is comprised of two major plots running in alongside each other and periodically switches between the two drawing parallels with mixed success and for the most part lack relevancy to each other.
As the film progresses towards the third act, the pacing picks up as does the suspense driving the film which culminates in some compelling dramatic scenes delivered by the cast. Unfortunately some of the more personal character relationships driving the film aren’t explored as thoroughly as they could have been, and are left a little too unresolved by the end of the film.
Through ‘Arbitrage’ Jarecki has also injects some social commentary on recent world economic events, particularly accountability of the rich and powerful, and this provokes some reflection after the film but isn’t really capitalised on in either a compelling or meaningful way during the film itself.
Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling all deliver strong performances, the film relies heavily on Gere to carry it through and he manages this through a detailed character performance, Sarandon and Marling have much less to work with but deliver an emotional punch when needed and these precious few scenes are where the film shines the most. Tim Roth also leaves a good impression with this performance but is a little hamstrung without the same material to work with as well as being left exclusively in the sub-plot that is of the least relevance to the film as is Nate Parker.
To Jarecki’s credit he takes the setting of a merchant bank, and without requiring members of the audience to have a studied understanding of financial institution operations, manages to articulate corporate crimes and cover ups arising from poor investment decisions, and the resultant fraudulent activities seeking to mitigate losses to the wealthy few.
The frustrating thing about ‘Arbitrage’ is that on one side it is a compelling and smart thriller, and it maintains this in some aspects of the film from beginning to end but is woven against another side of the film quickly devolves into predictable clichéd sequences that do more far more harm than good.
I’m giving ‘Arbitrage’ 5 out of 10, it is released in cinemas on Thursday 27th September 2012.