It’s a risky thing to make a feature film that dramatizes the worst of current events, to translate from the evening news to the silver screen stories of political corruption, military incursions, and economic disparity when they are still happening. It is not that such movies are bad, such as 2011’s The Ides of March (brilliantly acted and directed), it’s just that there is much malaise while watching, leaving the audience with little enjoyment and nothing new.
Arbitrage, a slick caper of a film that follows the troubles of a smooth-talking, good-looking, and fierce businessman, enlivens what could be a frustrating narrative with a compelling leading character, a great supporting cast, and superb direction.
Nicolas Jarecki, 33-years-old in his directorial debut, handles with aplomb an entertaining and tense psychological thriller, and clearly knows his stuff creating a movie around high finance and a hedge fund manager. His dedication to authenticity and his clear talent as a director undoubtedly helped him bring aboard an exceptionally talented cast surrounded by the pitch-perfect Richard Gere.
Gere, silver-haired and well-manicured, is spot-on as Robert Miller, a family man with more than one big secret. When his late night escapades, unbeknownst to his lavishly-doted wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon), and his daughter and employee Brooke (Brit Marling), jeopardize an important negotiation and attract the attention of the police, Robert is forced to seek the help of an old friend in a young African-American with a record, Jimmy Grant (a very charming Nate Parker).
Fast-paced and taut (an adjective only used to describe cool-looking movies), Gere is perfect, somehow compelling as a generally seedy magnate, and the film is somewhere invigorating despite a story about corruption and economics.
It’s funny, too, somehow. Tim Roth, almost always gesticulating wildly, steals every one of his many scenes as a dedicated cop bent on bringing down Miller. Excessive yet enjoyable, Roth’s bombastic cat to Gere’s calm, clever mouse serves as one of the movie’s many engaging character foils. These relationships make what could be a depressing, insufferable story into something fascinating and more or less unpredictable.
Of course there is melodrama, but it serves to help separate it from reality in the best of ways, making interesting and attractive what would be boring and ugly. The younger actors, especially Mr. Parker, are refreshing and strong, and all of them are varying shades of gray (as opposed to Mr. Gere’s hair, a solid supporting actor too).
Arbitrage is a lovely surprise: it gets dark, but not too dark, real but not too real. It’s not familiar enough to be draining, yet universal in emotion and struggles to appeal to everyone. It has fortunate to have people who know what they are doing, and do it oh so well. It may not stick with you forever, but you should enjoy it each and every tense-filled and intriguing second.