A wealth of talent
Is a well-acted, guilty pleasure, writes
GREED is good, until it isn’t anymore, in Arbitrage – a guilty-pleasure thriller for these tough economic times. In directing his first feature, writer and documentarian Nicholas Jarecki shows great command of tone – a balance of sex, danger and manipulation with some insiderish business talk and a healthy sprinkling of dark humour to break up the tension.
His film is well-cast and strongly acted, and while it couldn’t be more relevant, it also recalls the decadence of 1980s Wall Street, shot in 35mm as it is, with a synth-heavy score from composer Cliff Martinez (who wrote similar music for Drive).
Arbitrage is a lurid look at a lavish lifestyle that allows us to cluck disapprovingly while still vicariously enjoying its luxurious trappings.
Richard Gere stars as Robert Miller, a billionaire hedge-fund magnate who, as the film opens, magnanimously shares his wisdom in an interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo.
As he turns 60, Miller would seem to have it all – looks, wealth, a loving family and respect among his peers: yet he always wants more and feels emboldened by the different set of rules and morals that seems to apply in his rarefied world.
So he ‘‘borrows’’ $US417 million from a fellow tycoon to cover a hole in his portfolio and make his company look as stable as possible as it’s about to be acquired by a bank. This is otherwise known as fraud. And despite the loyalty and support of his smart, beautiful wife (Susan Sarandon), he has a hot (and hot-headed) French mistress on the side (former Victoria’s Secret model Laetitia Casta) who runs in stylish, hard-partying art circles.
Both these schemes explode in his face over the course of a few fateful days. An audit of his company has raised some red flags, making the potential buyer turn reluctant and evasive.
This prompts the suspicions of his devoted daughter (Brit Marling, every bit Gere’s equal), who’s also the company’s chief financial officer and heiress apparent. But more immediately and dramatically, Miller is involved in a deadly accident that puts the police on his tail (Tim Roth plays the lead detective with a wonderfully thick New York accent) and requires him to enlist the help of a kid from Harlem (Nate Parker) who’s the son of his late, longtime chauffeur.
That’s a lot of plates to keep spinning at once; the financial storyline alone could have sufficed without the affair messing things up further.
What’s surprising about Arbitrage is that Jarecki never judges this man for the tricky position he’s got himself into and never tries to steer our feelings towards him, either.
Gere is so charming, so irresistible when he’s on top of the world – and has all those plates humming in unison – that he makes you barrack for his character to get away with it all. His placid demeanour is perfect, which makes the few times Miller does snap that much more startling.
The film’s strong women don’t get enough to do until the third act, when Sarandon and Marling both have powerful showdowns with Gere. But the supporting cast is well-chosen, down to the actors who appear in just a couple of scenes, like Stuart Margolin as Robert’s dryly funny lawyer and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter as the head of the bank that’s acquiring Miller’s company.
Miller may not learn anything by the end, and teetering on the brink of serious trouble doesn’t make him a more decent person; actually, he gets nastier and more demanding as the screws tighten.
As Parker’s character puts it: ‘‘You think money is gonna fix this?’’
Miller doesn’t miss a beat in responding: ‘‘What else is there?’’
Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere star in