My main quibble with Arbitrage was that we have seen a story like this before where power and manipulation are each other's evil step-brothers. We have seen it in the form of masterpieces (Citizen Kane, The Social Network) and several other topical films (Wall Street, Margin Call), which rob us of the novelty of the intrigue. This is not to say that Arbitrage isn't a good film, we have seen it done worse too. Arbitrage works mainly because of its timing and its layered allegory of the 2008 global (American?) financial crunch (scam?).
Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a multi-millionaire commits fraud and adultery and is a self-proclaimed success-expert. We witness a world where 2 million dollars can be prefixed with "only" in a casual conversation. Soon an accident occurs which forces the characters to get some perspective and bring out the dirt from under the rug. Why must anyone make films about an unlikable protagonist? To be honest, I wasn't rooting for this guy for most of the film's runtime. I'm extremely critical when it comes to any form of iniquity. I'm not a fan of Richard Gere as an actor either. Even his best works aren't landmarks of acting in any sense (Days of Heaven, American Gigolo, An Officer and a Gentleman, Primal Fear and Chicago). His range is extremely limited. Now then, a flawed character and not the most skilled actor to portray it. "Why isn't this film going wrong?" I asked myself midway. I was aware that the makers are trying to manipulate me by casting a handsome face as the anti-hero and a not-so-handsome (but super cool in other films) Tim Roth as the anti-nemesis. Why did I like the movie then? It was more of an after-thought actually when I found myself sighing in relief when things started going the way they shouldn't. Why was I rooting for the bad guy? (Nicholas Jarecki has been studying Alfred Hitchcock well) It was confirmed that the film is smartly made when I chuckled as Robert pulls off negotiating a ludicrous deal. I may not like this man, but I know where he is coming from. All in all, Arbitrage fits Richard Gere's range like a glove. In fact, his performance may even make the film seem better than it truly is.
I was extremely proud of myself when I didn't get lost with all the financial jargon being thrown around and actually comprehended everything that was going on. I would like to say it was me, but I'm sure it was the well-constructed screenplay and director Nicholas Jarecki's command over it. He helms the tone of the film and extracts able performances from his actors. Susan Sarandon rarely gives a performance, which she doesn't nail. A sincere request to Hollywood: Please make men stop cheating on Susan Sarandon. She's lovely and it's highly implausible why anyone would cheat on her. Brit Marling who found her breakthrough in the terrific Another Earth (2011) seems to have found her comfortable chair. I wouldn't be surprised if her name shows up with awards banners in the coming years.
Arbitrage is an excellent family drama and its strength lies in the scenes where the characters confront each other and inadvertently themselves. To top this, it's a compelling thriller. It isn't like traditional thrillers, which are fast-moving attention-mongers, but the intrigue is as traditional and elegant as they come, which is a damn good thing.