Arbitrage Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Photo courtesy of VVS Films

Arbitrage (2012)

Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Tim Roth and Graydon Carter

Directed by Nicholas Jarecki

MINOR SPOILERS

Robert Miller (Gere) is a self-assured second-generation business mogul. He has a measured self-effacement while giving one of many interviews that he gives to glossy publications. He’s celebrating his birthday with the three generations that make up his family but he whisks away because of work. Let me remind you that his wife Ellen is played by Susan Sarandon and that ‘work’ means he’s cheating on her. May God have mercy on his soul for I won’t.

The mistress is a needy French artist (Casta) who is angry at Robert for being late for his second birthday party. I don’t know if I sound soulless, but she doesn’t realize that Robert is a big shot Wall Street type who doesn’t have time for the people he supposedly loves. Hence, the dilemma of adultery of having to pleasure two women during one lifetime, the woeful predicament of someone who doesn’t want to tell one of them to eff off. Impulsively and out of guilt, he invites her to a weekend tryst fest on one of his properties upstate. They look like a movie couple until a fateful car accident. It’s a jolt that seems to make this different from your average movie about a troubled tycoon, unflinching in showing the woman’s death, giving its protagonist a bigger burden than he already has.

Oh, and one more thing, he’s a fraudster.

Photo courtesy of VVS Films

Keeping up appearances is naturally exhausting as Robert spends most of the time begging for mercy or money after his problems get exposed. Cases could be made for both, but I’ll say that he’s a passive protagonist. The movie finds a balance. He begs without looking needy or pathetic. From these moments we the audience can’t fully sympathize for him and we want him to be punished, yet we acknowledge that – and the masculine Stoicism within Gere’s deservedly praised performance helps in this point as well – he’s not a purely evil person.

Photo courtesy of VVS Films

To book him for either of his crimes, there are outside forces like Tim Roth’s street smart character Det. Michael Breyer, the actor stealing every scene he’s in. He’s growing into his age. But despite his bravado he’s more efficiently grilled on the inside by the two most important women in his life, his wife and his daughter. It’s my first time seeing Marling on-screen and although she’s not perfect, she’s a delightful presence and is as intelligent as her character demands. She or any of the supporting characters thankfully challenge him without having the unnecessary histrionics of ‘telling him off.’ The movie surrounding these characters seem conventional, but their performances and approach comes from justice and pain, a better angle than heavy-handed Schadenfreude ever will be.

Photo courtesy of VVS Films

In other words this movie is about how members of the 1% are bound for deviance and how the people within their cabal inflict punishment towards their own kind. The concept itself is unsatisfying. Without giving too much away, we see the constraints against a great man only for them to unfortunately loosen.

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