First Hit: Although not much about how the finance business works, the character study, at times, was pretty good.
While we are still coming out of a huge financial meltdown and with Europe continuing to have financial troubles, I would have liked to see more about how the financial system works, doesn't work or gets manipulated.
There have been some films, like Margin Call, which have done this recently. What this film does, is give you a look at how a man named Robert Miller (Richard Gere) deals with a mistake he makes with an investment judgment.
At first there is a sense that the film’s main character Miller is like Gordon Gekko, arrogant and the only important thing is MONEY. But then Miller's character shifts a bit and seems more like Bernard Madoff with his family tied into the family business but not knowing how he kept a separate set of books.
The film takes place over a week and if he can’t find anyone to buy his company by Friday it all blows up. Miller’s wife Ellen (played by Susan Sarandon) seems to know all of what is going on, but stoically carries on with her charities.
Brooke (played by Brit Marling), Miller’s daughter figures out the problem, that her father is cooking the books, and is shocked and dismayed. Their dialogue was some of the best in the film. I also enjoyed the dialogue between Miller and the potential company buyer James Mayfield (played by Graydon Carter). Although their conversation was, at most, 5 minutes, it was riveting.
The side story about Jimmy Grant (played by Nate Parker) helping Miller out of a jam when he gets into a car accident, which kills his lover, and leaves the scene (think Kennedy and Chappaquiddick) carries much of the film. This is unfortunate because what could have been a great financial thriller ends up being a poor film about bad character.
Gere’s beady small eyes are great for his sneaky ways as a financier. Outside of this he does a pretty good job of emoting his calm, in charge, exterior while his total world falls apart. Tim Roth as Detective Michael Bryer is too laid back, lazy, and filled with spite to be good. Sarandon was next to horrible and un-emotive as Miller’s wife. She didn’t portray her character in a way that would make her remotely desirable by Gere. Laetitia Casta, as Gere’s girlfriend Julie was neither interesting, attractive or worth watching. Marling was a joy to watch in her role as a daughter whose trust of her father falls away with her own discovery. Carter in his brief part was very effective. Parker as the young man who assists Miller was very good. Nicholas Jarecki wrote and directed this poorly constructed film. Instead of it being called Arbitrage it needed to be call “dilemmas”.
Overall: I think the full-theater audience I was sitting with was interested in a financial thriller but ended up seeing a standard film about a man in a dilemma.