Film Review: Arbitrage

Juicy, smart, engrossing financial thriller boasts assets aplenty in its portfolio.

What a great feature-directing debut for writer/doc/NYU film school wunderkind Nicholas Jarecki, who brought intimate knowledge of New York’s financial elite and shenanigans to a great script that, in turn, attracted backing, an impeccable cast, terrific production design and what it takes to deliver what smart, fussy audiences want.

Richard Gere, in one of his best roles ever, plays New York hedge-fund billionaire Robert Miller, who has it all (including, probably some of yours). His envy-inducing family includes sassy wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and bright, beautiful daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), an exec at his fund. He has the spacious Upper East Side townhouse, the chauffeurs, the loyal office staff which includes ace assistant Gavin Briar (Chris Eigeman).

Miller also has that undeniable charm and the good looks that mesh with so much success. He’s got the steely nerve of all conquerers and the sleek private jet to get him wherever, whenever. And there’s the savvy, fearless business sense that gets done whatever deal needs to be done, whether on or off the law books.

He’s also got a secret mistress, beautiful young art dealer Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta). But Robert’s also got some business trouble brewing that his rich pal Jeff (Larry Pine) spells out. Robert had borrowed a huge chunk of change in the hundreds of millions from Jeff to cover a hole on his balance sheet that occurred with a bad bet on housing. Jeff calls him on his thick carpet for it, but Robert assures him he’ll get back the loan pronto, as he’s only awaiting a signature on a very big deal—the sale of his hedge fund to fellow magnate James Mayfield (Graydon Carter, real-life master of another universe or two).

Of course, the trick in keeping so much afloat—whether it’s mistress, mega-deal or mega-lender pests like Jeff—has much to do with luck, but Robert can’t control that the way he handles so much else in his life.

Thus, the frustrating and aborted scrambling to get meetings with Mayfield and to get him to put pen to paper, a paper chase that forces Robert to miss most of Julie’s all-important gallery show. She’s furious, but he proposes a short getaway overnight to his upstate hideaway—a decision that results in a terrible accident.

A desperate Robert elicits the help of young Jimmy Grant (a sensational Nate Parker), the decent but struggling African-American son of his late longtime driver. But Robert’s suspicious actions come to the attention of Detective Bryer (Tim Roth), about as bullying and slovenly a New Yawk cop as has ever hit the screen. As Bryer tries to close in on the billionaire, Mayfield and the all-important contract that needs to be signed get more slippery. But Robert has some tricks of his own that take things—and the magnate himself—to unexpected places.

Unlike the equally accomplished but more dramatically focused Margin Call, Arbitrage, full of nifty twists and surprises, is true to its thriller genre. Performances couldn’t be better, except in the case of Roth’s near-caricature detective, where it was up to the filmmaker to order “Pull back!”