The word arbitrage has to do with “taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets,” says Wikipedia.
Arbitrage the movie is about two very different problems, Richard Gere’s attempt to cover up some financial indiscretions and sell his seemingly successful company to another bland billionaire, and about his attempts to cover up his accidental involvement in the death of the woman he’d been romancing. Richard Gere covering things up left and right. Richard Gere puts on a suit. Richard Gere gets some text messages. Richard Gere seethes, oh how he seethes. Richard Gere enjoys the company of no one, finding solace in his thoughts. Richard Gere looks older than you remember.
A less sympathetic character could probably not be found at this point in time. A wealthy Wall Street billionaire who is having money problems? Hope you twerk it out, big guy. Hope you’re able to find a way to fill the multi-million dollar hole in your money company that does unclear money things. As an audience, we’re not privy to his reasons for doing things, he moves through the city a celestial body in a vast universe, demanding respect and requiring unconditional support from those around him. He is the proud possessor of a beautiful and devoted family, including a positively smokin’ Susan Sarandon as the adoring wife, but men like this can’t get enough. Whether it’s acquiring the beautiful young gallery owner Julie (Laetitia Casta) or finding a way to make more money, Robert Miller (Gere) wants it all. When there’s a horrible accident and he must seek to clear his name for a crime he only sort of committed, he does his best to weasel out of it, roping in an unexpected friend (Nate Parker) to help him take the heat as a detective (Tim Roth) narrows in on both of them.
Richard Gere looks tired, mostly. Still, he remains an utterly engaging presence though a tad empty. What can be said of the support staff of this creaking ship? Brit Marling’s Hair for president, first of all. Whatever side of the issues you stand on, whether it’s a slinky side braid or just a lustrous waterfall of blond perfection, Brit Marling’s Hair will be a fair and moderate leader, taking bold control of foreign issues (Moroccan oil?) while staying tough on health care reform (vitamin D and hydration). Marling has proved herself a competent and remarkable actress in her short time in the spotlight, and her portrayal of the straight-as-an-arrow daughter is compelling. It’s no wonder the majority of the familial scenes fall between Gere and Marling, their affection for one another is evident, and her first-time defiance of his God-like parental figure is heartbreaking and powerful. Sarandon is more than enjoyable in her role, all iron fist in the daintiest of velvet gloves, and Parker brings a refreshing naturalism to his role. Casta is the only weak link, all rage and angry chompers, but even she fulfills a need.
Director Nicholas Jarecki has obviously arranged the movie with care, from the script to the technical and visual aspects, considering and weighing the effects of every element. The framing, chosen by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (he of the lush visual radiance of I Am Love), was consistently unsettling, with characters looming just slightly too large for the enormous spaces they occupied, and then broad swooping shots of New York City interspersed throughout like breathing room. The score is remarkable, Cliff Martinez’s other work includes many Steven Soderbergh films, and his jazzy, dark soundtrack amplifies every moment. In a strange way, in these smaller moments of scene setting and transition, the film compiles and layers feelings most effectively, and yet something still was lacking.
Because Arbitrage is filled with many characters and a variety of subplots, characters come and go, disappearing for too long and then resurfacing unexpectedly. The movie wants to be both a legal Wall Street thriller, but it also wants to be a murder mystery, and is far too in love with either storyline to successfully meld the two. Too bad that the world of Wall Street is not as fascinating and foreign as it once was — as a result, the film feels hollow and grotesque, characters cavalierly discussing millions of dollars as paltry sums and personifying the caricature of the idle rich. These problems unfortunately fail to make the jump from something happening in front of us, to something happening to us, leaving us stranded, wanting to care but unable to muster even baseline empathy for such horrors.