Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth
Hollywood seems to be fascinated with the financial crisis of 2007. In this investment-fraud thriller, Richard Gere portrays a billionaire businessman who has “cooked the books” in order to make his company more attractive to a potential buyer, risking prison and disgrace in the process. Oh, and he also accidentally kills his mistress in a car crash and covers that up along the way.
When we meet Robert Miller, played by Richard Gere, he is surrounded by his family celebrating his 60th birthday. Moments after making a touching speech about how important his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and children are, he heads out into the night to engage in a little hanky panky with his much-younger French mistress, an aspiring artist named Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta). No surprises there…the rich and powerful have been up to these kinds of shenanigans for ages…but it does tell us something about Mr. Miller’s character.
AS it turns out Miller is uptight because he is trying to sell his multi-million dollar company and everything rests on the company’s books passing scrutiny. Unknown to everyone including his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) who is CFO, Robert has covered up $400 million in debt. He’s sweating out the process with the potential buyer proving difficult to pin down.
A few days later he and Julie take a midnight drive, Richard falls asleep and Julie is dead. Richard panics and instead of calling the authorities, he calls Jimmy Grant (Nate Palmer) a young black man whose late father used to work for Miller. Jimmy drives out to help Miller but, as always happens, there is a trail of incriminating clues.
Enter Det. Bryer (Tim Roth) of the New York City Police Department, a crumpled but observant detective (think Columbo) who is initially suspicious and then determined to bring Miller to justice.
Arbitrage, is, as the name implies, about negotiating. And Miller is a cold-blooded master. Throughout the film he is forced to wheel and deal with his wife, his daughter, his mistress, Jimmy, the Detective and of course the potential buyer to get what he needs to survive.
Watching Gere inhabit this character is the best thing about the film. His years of experience lead him to play this guy perfectly. His actions are despicable, but he himself becomes ultimately likable. It’s difficult not to root for him.
The two main plot devices are relatively standard…the philandering husband and the crooked businessman…but first-time director Jarecki and Gere raise this above the usual standard. Special mention should be made of Nate Palmer who does an excellent job of showing the torn loyalties and emotions he goes through as he decides whether to protect Miller and risk a prison sentence.
The film’s end can be seen as something of a let-down, but probably fairly realistic. The result is a sometimes flawed, but very engaging crime drama that ultimately succeeds because of the fine performances and taut script that illuminates the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes in both business and personal relationships.