Some characters are so despicable and manipulative that the audience should desire to see them receive the most dreadful comeuppance. Despite all of their shameful wrongdoings though, we can’t help but hope that these characters will triumph over the alleged good guys. Who isn’t gunning to see Walter White come out on top in the final season of “Breaking Bad?” Like White and various other antiheroes, the flawed protagonist in “Arbitrage” is a difficult character not to root for. This is primarily thanks to the smart screenplay by writer/director Nicholas Jarecki and a charismatic leading performance from Richard Gere.
Gere plays Robert Miller, a billionaire hedge fund magnate who makes himself out to be an upright businessman, husband, and father. Like all billionaires in these sorts of movies though, there’s a greedy scoundrel lurking behind Miller’s mask of honesty. One of the many sins on Miller’s conscious is that he has been having an affair with a lovely French art dealer, played by Laetitia Casta. Their relationship literally hits a roadblock when Miller falls asleep at the wheel, resulting in a car crash. The mistress is killed in the collision and Miller flees from the horrific remains of the car. Although Miller considers confessing to involuntary manslaughter, he refuses to let anything get in the way of him completing the sale of his trading empire to a bank.
While Gere has done a fair share of praiseworthy work in movies like “An Officer and a Gentleman,” he has honestly never struck me as a phenomenal talent. Gere may not give an Oscar-caliber performance in “Arbitrage.” Nevertheless, this is one of Gere’s best performances and Robert Miller is definitely among his most memorable characters. It’s monumentally entertaining to watch this secretive man juggle a web of lies as his family, business partners, partners in crime, and the police come after him.
On the side of the law is Tim Roth as a classic New York detective hell-bent on finding the driver of the crashed vehicle. Just as threatening to Miller’s wellbeing is his daughter and colleague, sharply played by Brit Marling, who discovers her father may be responsible for missing company funds. Nate Parker is equally strong as Jimmy Grant, who could either be a valuable source of help to Miller or the man that will ultimately bring him down. The one actor who probably could have used more screen time is Susan Sarandon as Miller’s long-suffering wife. But the film does redeemably permit her a superbly juicy scene towards the conclusion.
Perhaps the most admirable aspect of “Arbitrage” is that it’s not the most conventional financial thriller and it doesn’t necessarily provide a moral. This isn’t exactly a movie about tragic downfalls of the mighty and people paying their debts to society. The outcome of these events may especially catch some audiences off guard. For my money though, the film provides a suitable ending for Robert Miller, a character you’ll be cheering on even when he’s at his worst.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.