Shortly into the movie Arbitrage, the new 1% thriller written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, I began to wonder whether I stumbled into the wrong theater. According to the previews; reports from friends; reviews; etc., I was expecting a story about a semi-sociopathic financier, a Bernie Madoff type, who would do anything and betray anyone to survive (including his virtuous and untainted daughter), and who was about to pull off a deal that would destroy everyone but himself, but who is temporarily derailed when he causes a Ted Kennedy Chappaquiddick type accident that results in the death of his mistress via manslaughter. He is then pursued by two righteous police officers and a D.A. who are tired of the wealthy getting away with murder.
That is not the movie I saw.
Instead, I saw a film about a financier noble in heart, though weak in action, who desperately, and by, yes, illegal methods, is trying to save his company before it goes belly up, costing him not just everything he has, but also the savings and money of all his investors and the jobs of all those who work for him (including his daughter). After a horrifying accident not caused by manslaughter (unless I’m simply unaware of the intricate parsings of said term—and I very well might be), but by the character falling asleep at the wheel, his greatest crime is leaving the scene of an accident. He is then pursued by a sociopathic officer who seems to have some sort of personal vendetta against the wealthy man (though none is every revealed), to such an extent that he willfully manufactures evidence and gets the DA to lie to a grand jury in order to convict the financier for something he didn’t to (our taxpayer dollars at work, I guess).
Okay, po-tay-to, po-tah-to. But you can see where I’m coming from.
In the end, though, even looking at the movie from my point of view, Arbitrage is not much more than an entertaining enough thriller that gets the job done. It’s not quite a roller coaster ride, but it’s not boring. Just a bit of a let down.
The cast is headed by Richard Gere as Robert Miller, the non Bernie Madoff/non-Ted Kennedy, Bernie Madoff/Ted Kennedy role. Gere’s charming, though I think he’s been better in recent years. But he has one great scene where his character finally traps the illusive Mayfield, the businessman who keeps putting of buying Miller’s business, and Miller shows the brass balls that made him what he is. He out bluffs said Mayfield and finally gets a deal that saves anyone and everyone.
There are some nice faces in the supporting roles, like Stuart Margolis as Syd Felder, Miller’s lawyer who gives Miller (what seems to be to me) questionable legal advice; and Chris Eigeman as Miller’s almost Zen like business manager. Both are welcome sights.
As for the rest, Tim Roth plays his “righteous” officer role rather broadly, in the way that actors often do if they don’t find their characters inherently interesting (probably a good choice here since his role isn’t particularly interesting). Susan Sarandon is around to pick up a paycheck. And the extras are filled out with some of the tallest Amazonian secretaries I’ve ever seen, which may suggest something about Jarecki and/or the casting director that I’d rather not know.
Perhaps the two characters that are written the most puzzling are Brooke, Miller’s daughter (played by Brit Marling) and his surprisingly dowdy mistress Reina (played by Monica Raymund). Both are just a bit too incredibly naïve for me to have any empathy for.
Brooke is suppose to be this alpha female financier, but in all the years she’s been in the business, has yet to grasp the concept of imperfection in her parents. She’s shocked, shocked (in the best Captain Renault manner) that her father is involved in some shady dealings. Really? I mean…Really? When Sarandon talks about it, she acts like Brooke just lost her virginity when her daughter’s at least thirty years old, for God’s sake. (It reminded me of the reaction from all these men about what happened between Monica Lewinsky and Clinton—an “how dare you with my daughter” type response that only made me think: “you do realize she is over twenty one, right? Just how long were you planning on protecting her virginity, anyway?”)
Reina, meanwhile, spends most of her time pouting because she’s not the center of her patron’s universe and is just now realizing that her lover is not going to leave his wife. Again, really? I mean…Really? She also seems incredibly ungrateful that Miller pays for her luxurious apartment that no artist could ever hope to afford in New York; arranges shows for her; and buys her paintings. At one point, Miller tells his daughter, “You’re not my partner, you’re my employee.” I felt that this line would be much more appropriately delivered to Reina.