The Thinker

Review: Arbitrage

Richard Gere, sorry his character Robert Miller in the movie Arbitrage, is a billionaire with a problem. Specifically, in preparation for selling his company for an obscene amount of money he has been cooking the books. That would normally be a large enough problem to consume any movie, but Miller has plenty more of them. He has a mistress, who is getting impatient with his lack of attention. He has a daughter working for the company who is getting good enough at reading ledgers to realize daddy probably should be in jail. And his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) realizes she has a two-timing husband and is anxious to make him pay. But hey, it’s all for a good cause. (More on that near the end of the movie.)

Oh, and Robert Miller has another problem: he is aging. In fact, he is still handsome, but he looks like a sixty year old guy. One can’t say the same about Susan Sarandon, who is looking scrumptious at age 65, so good in fact that she can pass for a woman twenty years younger. One thing is for sure: Ellen reads her husband like a book and can sense that he is in deep over his head. In fact, if there is one person really controlling the crazy events about to unfold in Robert Miller’s life, it is Ellen, the unseen puppet master.

Problems go from bad but manageable to catastrophically crazy when he steals out of town with his gap-toothed mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta), falls asleep driving and she ends up dead. Miller is injured as well but naturally feels a need to cover up the event, which is kind of hard when your girlfriend is burned to death in the subsequent car fire. At times like this you need a discreet friend. Nate Parker (Jimmy Grant), his black friend from Harlem that he helped out once, has his arms twisted into picking him up along the side of the road in the middle of the night and helping him get home to Ellen before dawn. Miller needs a lot of pain pills and has to spend much of his time pretending he does not have a set of crushed ribs, since he doesn’t want to be implicated in Julie’s death.

Meanwhile, Miller has to work real hard to pull off the biggest deal of his life: selling his company with the books cooked while a New York City detective is hot on his trail and his daughter is piecing together the extent of his financial crime. In short, Robert Miller’s life becomes a textbook case on the virtues of living simply and honestly. If only he can keep his cover, sell the company, keep the city detective from charging him with a crime, console the relatives of his dead mistress and manage his devious and suspicious wife all while racked in pain from his crushed ribs.

This is all challenging material but Gere and the supporting cast do a great job rendering this web of lies into a convincing motion picture. It turns out that Miller is not the only character involved in lies and deception. In fact, you might want to bring a pad of paper and a pencil with you to the theater to keep track of the subplots, characters and small details that will matter in figuring out what’s really going on here. There are many layers to this movie.

This is a mystery movie for the Wall Street crowd. This movie is better appreciated if you inhabit the world of brokerage houses and high finance, a limitation that may make the movie hard for many of us to appreciate. It’s impossible to feel any sympathy for Robert Miller, since he spun a complex web of his own making. When you build a house of cards like he has, you have to expect that it may fall over easily. Like many on Wall Street, Miller believes that life is one big game of poker and if you can maintain a poker face you can end up defying crazy long odds. After seeing Arbitrage, most of us though might want to simplify our portfolios, if not sell our possessions and go live on an island somewhere, rather than come anywhere close to living the web of lies that Miller manages to spin.

As a movie, Arbitrage works well, providing you can manage to find some way to relate to Robert Miller’s surreal and glitzy life. It has enough subplots to keep your mind fully engaged and is directed and acted well enough so that you don’t mind coming along for the intimately painful ride. Gere proves that he may be over sixty, but he has the acting mettle for this complex role. Arbitrage provides a fine cinematic plot boiler. However, within that class of plot boiler it is probably standard fare. Enjoy the acting and plot twists, but don’t expect much otherwise.

3.1 out of 4 stars.

Rating: ★★★☆ 

 

One Response to “Review: Arbitrage”

  1. 1:14 pm on November 5 2012, Magnolia said:

    I think your movie reviews are great! It amazes me you can capture the tiniest details about the plots and the characters from your own point of view. Keep blogging.

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