Judge Gordon Sullivan's so broke, he doesn't even have lint in his pockets.
His family. His fortune. One lie could destroy them both.
Richard Gere has never even been nominated for an Academy Award. He's been making movies—many of them well-regarded, from An Officer and a Gentleman to Chicago—for four decades without even the hope of a little gold statue to call his own. I won't pretend to know why the Academy has failed to honor Gere, but all those years toiling without a statue have put him in an odd position with respect to his peers. He wasn't feted young (like De Niro) nor celebrated late (like Pacino), so he's running out of options. Though I doubt Oscar glory was his sole motivation for taking the lead in Arbitrage, it's the perfect opportunity to blend charm and pathos in a sorta-thriller that's dramatic enough not to offend. Much like its main character, this is film that's charming but ultimately a bit empty.
Facts of the Case
Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a billionaire, someone who's gotten there largely by manipulating investments and cooking the books. He hopes to get out of his hole by selling off his company, but the clock is ticking on the deal and his debts are being called in. That's bad enough, but while driving to a romantic getaway with his illicit girlfriend, Miller falls asleep, crashes the car, and thus kills his girlfriend. Knowing that any scandal could scuttle his deal and leave him several hundred million in the hole, Miller attempts a cover-up, with dogged detective Bryer (Tim Roth, Lie to Me) at his heels.
Arbitrage is admirable for keeping so many balls in the air at once. On one level, there are Miller's financial manipulations. He's done some dirty deeds and there's a very real deadline for selling his company and reaping the profits from gaming the system. That time crunch gives the film a palpable edge, especially as the complex financial shenanigans are boiled down for the layperson quite effectively. On another level, Miller's daughter is his heir apparent in business and she starts looking into his books, noticing many odd things. That makes the film a bit of a family drama as well, as Miller wants to both keep all his money but not completely destroy his relationship with his daughter. Then, of course, there's the almost unnecessary dead girlfriend angle, where Miller has to deal with the possibility of scandal killing his deal and bringing to light his shady practices. The fact that more important men have come back from worse accidents (Ted Kennedy, for instance) doesn't matter because of the time crunch involved. Though there's a lingering sense of disbelief, the wheels of this thriller turn quite smoothly.
Much of the reason for that smooth turning is the cast. Gere is wonderful as Miller, backing up his usual charm with the kind of power that never quite bleeds over into excess. He's a bad man who does awful things, and yet Gere never lets him be either pathetic for his weaknesses (like having a girlfriend and needing more billions) or so bulletproof that he can't fall (making the thriller parts less thrilling). Susan Sarandon is similarly powerful as his wife, who won't allow herself to be fooled by Miller's façade. Tim Roth is his usual intense self, waiting like a wolf outside the door for Miller to make a single mistake that will allow him to topple the vast empire.
This excellent Blu-ray certainly helps the film's cause. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is generally pleasing. Though some shots can look a bit soft, especially interiors, most of the film is sharp and detailed, with a solid use of color saturation. Black levels are fairly deep and stay consistent throughout, and no significant artefacts show up to mar the image. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is even more impressive. Dialogue is clean and clear from the center channel, while the surrounds are used effectively for environmental and ambient effects (especially in NYC scenes). The score sounds especially good, with great dynamics.
Extras kick off with a commentary by writer/director Nicholas Jarecki. It's his feature debut as writer/director, and he's perfectly willing to discuss the film's genesis and production. Here we learn that Jarecki's parents work in the financial sector, so he had a bit of a leg up writing this script. A 13-minute EPK-style featurette is also include, mixing the usual interview, production footage, and scenes from the film. A second feature spends 7 minutes looking at the film's main character, and the disc rounds out with 10 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary from Jarecki.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I first saw the trailer for Arbitrage before a screening of Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, and the contrast between billionaire protagonists could not be more apparent. Cosmopolis shines a rather critical light on the machinations of financial capital, while Arbitrage wants us to root for Miller and his duplicitous ways. Though the 2008 financial meltdown was solidly four years in the rearview by the time Arbitrage debuted, it still feels a little early to be making a film this sympathetic to a guy who commits precisely the kind of shenanigans that resulted in many of the economic woes that viewers are still feeling.
There's also a way in which the film feels a bit too neat, which is often a problem with thrillers. Much of the plot hinges on seemingly random occurrences—Miller just happens to know a guy with a record who could help him move a body—that some viewers might have trouble investing in.
Arbitrage (Blu-ray) contains a career-defining performance from Richard Gere, who brings everything he's got to a role gives him a lot to work with. As a thriller about financial machinery, the film succeeds as well, offering many tense moments. Though some might object to the way the film wants us to sympathize with its protagonist, it's a film that's worth a try for fans of the actors or the genre, especially with this solid Blu-ray release as a viewing option.
Richard Miller is guilty, but Arbitrage skates by.
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