Arbitrage Movie Review
Richard Gere delivers such a charming, layered performance that he overcomes a contrived plot that piles too many financial and personal crises on the central character. But Gere is magnetic, and the film's themes resonate at a time of economic difficulty, most notably in the idea that all major world events revolve around money.
Gere plays 60-year-old financial mogul Robert, who lives the high life with a private jet, glamorous philanthropist wife Ellen (Sarandon) and sexy French art-dealer mistress Julie (Casta). He seduces the press with his intelligent wit, and has managed to conceal the fact that he's in severe money trouble. Everything hinges on selling his company, but the buyers are dragging their feet. Then he is involved in a fatal car crash that could undo everything. He turns to an estranged friend (Parker) for help, but a tenacious police detective (Roth) is beginning to piece it all together.
Having Gere in the central role makes all the difference here, because he is able to add the subtext and moral ambiguity that's lacking in the script and direction. Otherwise, it's shot like a too-obvious TV movie with close-up camerawork, a bland Cliff Martinez score and constant moralising about family values. By contrast, Gere is a shady character who is up to all kinds of unethical things and yet holds our sympathies because we can see that he's not all bad. Even so, the script puts him through the wringer, with a never-ending stream of personal and professional problems.
And every time the camera cuts away from Gere, the cracks begin to show. Not because the actors aren't up to the task, but because these scenes feel like distractions. Sarandon is fine as the loyal but steely wife, and Marling is very strong as their daughter facing her own ethical issues as Robert's second in command at work. Fortunately the script doesn't get too deep into the financial details (it never even defines the title term), focussing more on Robert's personal odyssey, which is the thing we're most interested in. And this is what makes the key point stick: financial collapse isn't just possible, it's inevitable.