We don’t see much of Richard Gere lately, so it’s a treat to watch him dominate the screen once again in Arbitrage, a fast-paced love-or-money tale written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. As feature-length narrative directorial debuts go, Arbitrage is a storytelling triumph, in part because of great performances by Gere and his co-stars.
If you’re not familiar with the title’s stock market term, just know that it refers to a trade-off that results in a big profit. Profit is “God” according to Gere’s Robert Miller, a charming silver fox who is successful in his roles as family man and billionaire CEO. Here’s a character who has built his own empire, but now that he “has it all,” he finds himself in frequent moral grey areas as he tries to stay at the top.
His entitled and still-spunky wife Ellen (played by the eternally sexy Susan Sarandon) is loyal and mostly turns a blind eye to what goes on behind the scenes of her mansion’s walls. However, when her husband gets caught in a gory incident with his mistress, an art dealer named Julie, hiding it becomes an added task for Gere’s character to juggle.
Staying at the top often requires manipulating the people around you, but even through some of Miller’s most despicable moments, Gere portrays him as human and flawed, so his character remains sympathetic. What keeps the movie interesting is that we are constantly wondering what, if anything, Miller will be willing to sacrifice if his last shred of honor demands it.
Tim Roth lends an edge to the cast of characters as gritty New York detective Michael Bryer, and Nate Parker gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Jimmy Grant, a once-troubled street kid who is now an aspirational young man, until he becomes entangled in Miller’s slippery cover-up scheme. Good guys and bad guys need not apply; these are all flawed characters we can care about and their fates depend on each other, which lends gravity to every (wrong) choice Miller makes.
Though some may argue that the moralizing gets heavy-handed at times, Jarecki’s film examines the mysterious world of the powerful in a truthful and unique way, and the plot builds at a thrilling clip so that by the time the credits roll, you’re left wanting more.