“Arbitrage” is the life that Edward Lewis (the ruthless corporate raider Richard Gere portrayed in Pretty Woman) would have lived had his compassion not been awakened by the Pretty Woman herself, played by Julia Roberts.
Definition of arbitrage: A trade that profits by exploiting price differences of identical or similar financial instruments. Blah, blah—whatever. The point is, that’s essentially what lead character Robert Miller (played by Richard Gere) is doing in this highly engrossing film.
Self-centered and entitled, Miller swims with the sharks and exploits the differences between his family life and his mistress, thereby profiting by “having it all.” It’s a well-told tale of the elite world of high finance, of privilege, powerful men, loyalty, lust, and the lifestyles of the One Percent.
The movie opens with New York hedge-fund magnate and self-proclaimed patriarch Robert Miller attending his 60th birthday. He’s got all that good stuff—jets, limos, old-money Manhattan apartment, impeccable suits, $160 haircut, still-pretty wife, gorgeous offspring—on the one side. On the other side, he’s got a knockout of a French wannabe art-dealer girlfriend (supermodel Laetitia Casta).
The surface is smooth, but underneath there’s turbulence in Miller-world. He made a bad gambling move, and now he’s trying to sell off his trading empire to a big bank before the $400 million in an escrow account that he borrowed from an impatient friend to illegally cover his audit—is discovered.
Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker, Laetitia Casta
Running Time: 100 minutes
But that’s not going to be that easy. His highly educated, beautiful daughter (played by Brit Marling) is also his very shrewd CFO. Fortunately for him, she’s still daddy’s girl, morally unbesmirched, and therefore naive.
His long-suffering wife (Susan Sarandon), however, while loyal, is also no dummy and has furthermore long become wise to the appetites and underhanded ways of powerful men.
The paradox: As tightly controlled as Miller is in his financial dealings, that’s how loose and chaotic he is in affairs of the heart. His girlfriend has him wrapped around her fingers. This carelessness results in a potent game-changing plot twist that threatens to blow all Miller’s female relationships sky-high.
Tim Roth plays an NYPD detective who’s fed up with rich guys getting away with murder. A game of cat and mouse ensues. Will Miller extricate himself from the tangled web of his own lies, or will the entire mess come crashing down on him?
All the acting is stellar, and there’s already quite a bit of Hollywood buzz around Gere’s performance. Like Brit Marling, director Jarecki is high-finance savvy. He knows better than most how to capture that rarified world authentically, and in the case of this story, show the sadness under the glitzy exterior.
The film had a relatively low budget, but due to Jarecki’s contacts, it was shot in ritzy locations. The soundtrack is jazzy, Manhattan-y, and a little depressing.
Does the privilege of powerful men always necessarily lead to lust and lies? Of course not. But the famous phrase “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is well depicted in “Arbitrage.”
Entitlement and too much money can hog-tie the conscience and grease the slide to the easy wrong instead of the hard right. And before you know it, life can turn into an Elvis song: “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.” See the film and find out which one.
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