It’s clear what writer/director Nicholas Jarecki was trying to do with “Arbitrage”: he wanted to make a old-fashioned thriller about the guy who has everything but values nothing. It’s a very ‘80s mindset, and it’s fun to see people try to make movies that look like they could have come from another decade. Tony Gilroy did something similar with “Michael Clayton,” though that movie had some new ideas. “Arbitrage,” however, does not. You’ve seen this movie before, almost to the letter.
Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is an extremely successful hedge fund manager who’s juggling his wife (Susan Sarandon), a mistress (Laetitia Casta), the potential sale of his firm, and a dark secret about his company’s financial solvency. Robert decides to run away with the mistress, but falls asleep at the wheel and gets into a horrific accident that leaves her dead. Knowing that he stands to lose everything he’s worked for – and gain a substantial jail sentence – if he reports the accident to the authorities, Robert flees the scene, calling on someone from his past to help him out. Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), though, smells a rat, and begins a relentless crusade to make Robert pay for perverting justice.
For this story to work, Jarecki had to include enough back doors to fill the scare floor at Monsters Inc. for a week. There were no witnesses to place Robert at the scene (what road just outside of New York City has no drivers on it, ever?), and the police somehow didn’t consider inquiring about vehicles registered in Robert’s name. If they had, they surely would have noticed that he was suddenly missing an upscale sedan, the kind with a body type similar to the charred wreckage they found his mistress in. Instead, Jarecki is more concerned with debunking TV procedural dramas – one character is quick to point out how little evidence is usually left behind at a crime scene – than giving Robert, and therefore the audience, a true challenge.
Ah, but Gere looks good in those dapper suits, weaseling his way out of trouble. All kidding aside, he’s an inspired choice to play Robert; only someone with effortless charisma could get away with the misdeeds that Robert commits here, with the audience on his side at the same time. Get ready to root for the bad guy, indeed.
Everyone else in the movie, though, is wasted. Susan Sarandon has only one scene of substance (which she hits out of the park), Roth has trouble with the accent from the beginning, and it’s difficult to see what Gere’s character sees in Laetitia Casta’s aspiring artist Julie. (Her large breasts, maybe?) Nate Parker has a nice role as Jimmy Grant, the son of one of Robert’s former employees, but that is about as good as it gets, after Gere.
Jarecki gets a couple of things right with “Arbitrage.” The movie plays the right cards in getting the audience to root for a truly bad person, and the script withholds enough information to keep things interesting until the end. The problem is that this exact movie has been made several times before, so why see it again? Many movies borrow ideas from other movies, but have their own unique spin (see: “Premium Rush”). “Arbitrage” makes the mistake of thinking it can get away with a deeply flawed story on the grounds that they’ve made a retro-grade thriller, that the nostalgia factor will be enough. It’s not.(2.5 / 5)
This originally ran September 11, 2012 on Bullz-Eye.com.