Prepare to root for the fraudulent, philandering, criminally negligent fat cat.
DIRECTED BY NICHOLAS JARECKI
Like the silvery coiffure of protagonist Robert Miller, a billionaire Wall Street patriarch played by Richard Gere, Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage is all shades of grey. Thanks in large part to Gere’s superb, Machiavellian performance, what looks on paper to be a straightforward, Madoff-inspired, down-with-fat-cats morality play becomes something far murkier, and more compelling.
By rights, Gere’s Miller is worthy of nothing but indignation: despite his sterling reputation as a philanthropic Manhattan hedge-fund magnate, he is, in fact, a philandering fraud, guilty of cooking his company’s books to the tune of $400 million—and of a spot of vehicular manslaughter to boot. And yet, Jarecki succeeds in eliciting sympathy for this devilish lead and his desperate bid to escape justice on both counts, lest the ensuing scandal scupper a major business transaction and reveal the depths of his duplicity to his unwitting, devoted family. (Brit Marling features as Miller’s daughter and protégé; Susan Sarandon plays his increasingly wary wife.)
Even when Miller’s irredeemable selfishness threatens to implicate the innocent, working-class son of a former employee, he goes about his shrewd, unscrupulous maneuvering in a way that keeps us on his side. While some of Jarecki’s secondary characters conform too tidily to types, and some of his plotting veers toward contrivance, the debut writer-director sustains the ambiguity at the heart of Arbitrage with a deft touch. What the film has to say about the ubiquity of corruption isn’t revelatory, but its ability to enlist our complicity lends it an unsettling resonance.