“Arbitrage” writer-director Nicholas Jarecki, right, says Richard Gere gave the main character “a Clintonian charm.”

Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki’s debut feature, “Arbitrage,” was inspired by the 2007 financial-sector meltdown, but it has a classic theme. The drama, starring Richard Gere as a hedge-fund manager who’s juggling business and personal crises, raises timeless questions about personal responsibility.

“It’s a lot of people doing the wrong thing for the right reasons,” says Jarecki of his characters. “The theme of the film is: What will you trade?”

Wearing a dark suit that looks more Wall Street than Hollywood, Jarecki explains that the two American power centers are parts of his heritage. His parents are commodity-trading veterans, while his older half brothers, Eugene and Andrew, directed such documentaries as “Why We Fight” and “Capturing the Friedmans.”

Nicholas Jarecki also worked on docs before making his fiction debut. But the path that led him to “Arbitrage” actually began when he was a teenage computer ace, hired as a consultant for “Hackers,” a fairly bad 1995 Angelina Jolie flick.

“When I was 16, I got to see a film being put together. My job was basically to hang out with Angelina Jolie,” Jarecki says. “I noticed that she seemed to respect this man called the director, so I thought, ‘OK, that’s what I’ve got to do now.’ ”

Almost 20 years later, Jarecki did it, with a sterling cast that includes Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling. The actors rehearsed for a month, which is rare in film, and in the process redefined the script.

“I had seen the movie in my head a couple thousand times,” Jarecki says. “I was actually bored of it. And then the actors come in and give it a different thing. I would rewrite the script with them to suit what we felt was strong. Richard particularly had a way of playing this character, a Clintonian charm.”

Opposite that charisma, the director cast Tim Roth as a resentful cop and Nate Parker as a young man indebted to Gere’s character. They, too, Jarecki says, must answer the movie’s fundamental question: “Will you give up your power to hang on to your last shred of humanity?”

That the question is considered by anyone at all means there’s a sliver of hope.