Friday, September 14, 2012



Arbitrage A Chinese adage claims that misfortunes don't come alone (祸不单行). While that might not always be true, it certainly happens to a lot people from time to time. Normally, more sympathy is expected toward those unlucky victims. However, if they are adulterous, fraudulent Wall Street billionaires, their struggle to maneuver themselves out of the misery can provide ample entertainment instead of attracting sympathy. I certainly gloat at the protagonist in Nicholas Jarecki's engrossing yet uneven feature directorial debut "Arbitrage" (USA 2012 | 100 min.).

Set in New York City, billionaire Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is not in the mood for celebrating his 60th birthday with his family. He is scrambling to make his hedge fund afloat in order to cover up his trading fraud that is similar to the infamous Bernie Madoff. He is about to go bankrupt. But including his vigilant and observant daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) who is the CFO of the firm, no one knows about it. He sleekly conceals his trouble and appears to be arrogantly confident and in control.

That's not the only crisis he is facing. His demanding mistress, artist Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta), becomes impatient about his not leaving his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon). To smooth things over, he sneaks out to be with his mistress, but only ends up in a tragic accident.

Miller now not only has to survive his financial disaster, but he also must get away from the scrutiny by the police detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) who investigates the accident that Miller is trying to cover up.

The game is on.

Brit Marling and Richard Gere in ARBITRAGE

Director Nicholas Jarecki impressively puts together an engaging thriller that is mildly entertaining. The enjoyable moments arise at the expense of Miller's misery. I wish I had a glass of wine in hand while watching how Miller tries to rescues himself out of a stinking hole, but only sinks deeper and deeper instead. At the same time, it's fascinating and disgusting to see how money can buy everything, well almost.

However, the film feels like it is squeezed together from two movies—one is about financial fraud on Wall Street, and the other is an episode of "Law and Order." By blending them together is not necessarily enhancing the thrill, but the two subplots often compete for attention from the audience.

Regarding acting, both Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling deliver brilliant and flawless performances in the film. On the contrary, Richard Gere is visibly acting on the screen, and he is not as good as an actor compared to his character. Tim Roth plays the offbeat police detective also seems a little off the track. When he first meets Miller, he relaxes himself comfortably on a couch in the billionaire's office as if he is blackmailing a drug dealer in a ghetto garage. It looks plain odd. And, the casting of Laetitia Casta as Miller's mistress looks like a mistake. Miller has all the money to get any young woman he wants. He must have chosen Julie because of love, but that love is not showing on the big screen.

In the end, money talks. That's probably why the poor wants to be rich, and the rich wants to be richer. That doesn't sound inspiring.

"Arbitrage," a Roadside Attractions release, opens on Friday, September 14, 2012 at Bay Area theaters.

Good review Tony. Gere is not my favorite actor, but he's good here and makes this character a whole lot more interesting than he had any right to be. I don't think it deserves an Oscar nomination, but it's nice to actually see a good performance from him while also trying something a bit darker with his act.
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