Gere breaks the bank genre
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, September 14, 2012
There are few cinematic pleasures as satisfying to behold as an actor in a role that fits him like a Savile Row suit. Richard Gere offers just such gratification in “Arbitrage,” a silky, sophisticated Wall Street thriller that finds the actor utterly in his prime, wearing his age and accumulated emotional wisdom with warmth, charisma and nonstop appeal.
That Gere’s character, a hedge-fund billionaire named Robert Miller, finds such immediate and sustained traction with the audience is anything from a foregone conclusion. Miller -- a high-flying magnate who turns out to be starkly different than the virtuous captain of industry he resembles -- could easily have been the kind of amoral anti-hero that made Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko so diverting in “Wall Street” and so grating in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
But in Gere’s smooth, subtly ingratiating characterization, and through the smart writing and direction of first-time feature director Nicholas Jarecki, “Arbitrage” becomes far more complex than just dramatized anti-corporate polemic, or even a simple fall from grace. Throughout this timely, tightly constructed drama, Miller himself seems to constantly interrogate the audience: Am I a bad good man or a good bad man?
How about a little of both? As “Arbitrage” opens, Miller is returning to New York from a meeting with a corporate titan named Mayfield, who is on the verge of buying one of Miller’s businesses; it just happens to be Miller’s 60th birthday, an event he celebrates with a family that includes a gorgeous wife (Susan Sarandon) and devoted daughter (Brit Marling). Miller has it all -- the private plane, the well-appointed townhouse, the car and driver. As it turns out, though, he has much more than he needs, a surfeit that will take “Arbitrage” from a high-gloss one-percent escapism to an increasingly gnarly corporate-slash-crime thriller.
The ghost of Bernie Madoff haunts “Arbitrage,” which Jarecki was inspired to write after reading a series of articles in Vanity Fair about the financial meltdown. (That magazine’s editor, Graydon Carter, shows up for a diverting cameo in one of the film’s finest, sharply etched scenes).
Indeed at times, the movie resembles one of those ripped-from-the-headlines episodes of “Law & Order,” stretched out to feature-length form. (It also bears a close resemblance to last year’s Wall Street indie hit, “Margin Call,” which shared a similar sense of pared-down style and tightly coiled pacing.)
“Arbitrage’s” canvas may be small, but it manages to command a movie-scale sense of drama and glamour, largely thanks to Gere’s commanding performance. It also gets terrific supporting turns right down the line, from Sarandon’s and Marling’s subtle portrayals of women who have benefited from Miller’s largesse in radically different ways, to Nate Parker, who delivers a breakout performance as a young man drawn into Miller’s circle with potentially disastrous results.
At one point, Parker’s character, Jimmy -- the galvanizing moral center of the film -- tells Miller that one day he hopes to open an Applebee’s. “What’s an Applebee’s?” Miller responds, with Gere giving the line just the right deadpan oomph. “Arbitrage” is laced through with these potent, pungent moments, as redolent of their bifurcated economic times as any speech being craftily choreographed on the political stump.
Bubbles burst, as Miller himself says as “Arbitrage” begins -- appropriately enough, flying high over the concerns of mere mortals below. Jarecki has made that truism enormously entertaining, with equal parts glistening light and end-of-an-era dread.
Contains profanity, brief violent images and drug use.