Arbitrage – 2012

Written and Directed by Nicholas Jarecki
Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker

Arbitrage uses a couple of old stories, combines them, and with some very good acting turns, makes it worth your time.  What starts out as a congenial old guy, Robert Miller (Gere) who dodged the big recession and is seemingly the master of all he humbly surveys.  The more we follow him, the more it is realized that he is living on borrowed cash and the bill is past due.  That’s not all, though.

He’s also got a house for an art gallery babe who he is propping up with this borrowed cash.  As he tries to squirm his way free, by selling his company, he is challenged by a slow audit process and an even slower bidder.  This leads to even more awkwardness as the other woman gets prickly after he is late to her gala opening.  In trying to make it up to her, he falls asleep at the wheel.  What happens next is easy to guess.  Only looking at the movie poster gives one the idea that the film is not primarily about the financial crisis.  If it had been, I would have turned it off around the time they get to upstate New York.  Problems of the rich are not easy to identify with, hence my problem with Margin Call.  The thing that gives Arbitrage the edge is that time is running out for our old Miller, and there is more than one hourglass.

Richard Gere is good here.  He is almost always this good, and it is easy to take for granted.  It does get a little tiring that almost every movie he is in involves some form of cuckolding, but then, you go with your strengths, I guess.  What sets this story apart is that aside from the perplexedly awful Casta,  there are absolutely no bad performances in the film.

Standing out is hard to do with a cast like this, but I can tell you that Brit Marling (Another Earth) is a star in the making.  Her performance as Miller’s bright daughter, Brooke, has nuance and she plays perfectly between two strong actors playing her father and her mother (Sarandon).  She is at ease in her discomfort.

Tim Roth should be in every movie, because he is such a chameleon.  One would never guess that he spent a day outside of New York based on his performance as police detective Bryer.  He’s somewhere between Columbo and Gere’s own Dennis Peck of Internal Affairs.  He’s out to accomplish good, even if he has to do bad to get it done.

The getaway driver is usually a throwaway role, but Nate Parker gives a powerful performance here.  As Jimmy Grant, a man with an awkward connection to Miller, Parker plays it as one who is carrying the debt of his father, who asked Miller for help raising his son.  It is a touching performance that has a mixture of love and resentment, and Parker has it down pat.

In her best performance in at least a decade, Sarandon’s seemingly oblivious Ellen is like a snake in the grass.  Her performance was almost scary in it’s precisely placed ignorance.  Her move is not entirely unexpected, but it is still brilliant.

The only weakness in the film is the fact that we know what is going to happen almost from the first frame.  The fall from grace only goes in one direction, even if putting additional weight along the way can make the trip a tad more interesting.  Extra points for the acting and the ending.  We all know what we would do, and hypothesizing makes it better.

(**** out of *****)


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