Money, Power, Women
Nobody plays a rich man these days in Hollywood with more suave than Richard Gere, and Arbitrage plays like a one man Margin Call, where there's the corporate wheelings and dealings, whether legal, illegal, or covered up, with profits and sole survivorship the highest of priority, but having one man which Wall Street heralds as an oracle, call the shots, versus the interaction of the board and its employees in the J.C. Chandor film. It's a tale of dirty little secrets here, with ourselves as witnesses to how the rich has the resources to get things done their way, even wriggling against a closing tide to try and shake off a manslaughter charge.
Gere plays Robert Miller, the head of an investment company which has been the darling of Wall Street for its stellar track record, and is on the verge of concluding a merger from another film. Everything's fine and dandy for Robert, as we see he has the impending deal which will make everyone a lot of money, a lovely family with wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon), son Peter (Austin Lysy) and daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) who also serve as executives in his company, and pretty much living it up with all the trappings that money can buy. But we soon learn he's pretty much of a hypocrite in life with a different set of moral values as expected, parting company with his family soon to celebrate his birthday with his artist mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta), who is getting a tad too demanding on this tycoon's time.
And when bad things happen, they happen one after another in quick succesion. Soon Robert finds himself having to fend off various upsets in his life. When gallivanting with his mistress, he gets into a car accident, escaping with bruised ribs and a cut on his forehead, but for Julie to meet her demise. Investigations led by Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) seem to suggest he's close to nailing Robert, if not for the rich man's bevy of connections with people whom he can count on, from legal counsel readily available, to those whom he can be certain be relied upon to bail him out and keep their mouths shut. The spectre of doom also extended to his creative accounting in hiding losses from a bad investment, and an audit team sniffing around prior to conclusion of his merger deal. Then there's Brooke poking her nose around questionable cooks which puts her in a spot whether to reveal her findings or otherwise, and Robert's matrimony being put on the line as well.
Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, Arbitrage seemed to suggest that when there's money, there's going to be a way. And face it, nobody climbs to the top without breaking some egos, stepping on toes, and being street smart about survival of the fittest. With more resources, one becomes an automatic target especially if need to be made an example of, and to nick the public officials recognition in bringing down the perennial fat cats of the industry, making it a coup of sorts in the legal fraternity. It has morality put on display as we see how various individuals subscribe to varying degrees of grey, where decisions get made on what reaps maximum benefit to oneself, whether to repay a debt, or to put up with shenanigans just because.
Richard Gere hasn't been on the big screen for some time, but what a role to make a comeback in. He excelled in playing a man who has it all, and also showed the desperation at being on the cusp of losing them all should he fail to navigate his chessboard of opportunities and threats properly. Besides seeing how his character wriggled his way through the mounting problems, what I really enjoyed were moments involving straight business, where deals get conducted face to face with primary stakeholders, whether in their office, or over a meal in a restaurant, cutting through all the nonsense, and going with the mantra that people buy from people, period. Undoubtedly the star of the show, he single-handedly carried the film with his charisma from start to finish.
Production values are excellent for its relatively modest budget, and Arbitrage has the strength of its story to thank in being simple, yet engaging enough. There would be some who would root for Robert to get caught, tripping up on his smugness and arrogance, while there will be others who will root for his survival, because if in the same shoes, we'd be faced with similar moral decisions and would like to hope for the best given our own instincts kicking in. In any case, this makes compulsory viewing, especially if one is a fan of Gere, or a believer that money makes the world go round. An excellent character study, and a definite recommendation.