In a fair and just world, Arbitrage would arrive on our shores amidst a wave of buzz and fresh from being a prime contender at the Academy Awards. It's extremely hard to comprehend how Richard Gere's masterful portrayal of a man desperately seeking to avert a fall from grace wasn't even nominated. Yet this injustice conforms to the recognisable world depicted in Nicholas Jarecki's superb film, where money and self-interest dominate proceedings while morality is relegated to mere afterthought.
Arbitrage provides a compelling character study of Gere's hedge fund magnate Robert Miller, a man who seemingly has it all - riches, an adoring family and glowing reputation. Yet his compulsions to gratify his egotistical needs have rendered large parts of his life utterly duplicitous. He has a young mistress (Laetitia Casta) on the go, bankrolling her pursuits, alongside engaging in financial dealings that are highly dangerous and fraudulent.
Then Robert makes one crucial, if unintended, mistake that could lead to a long stint in prison as Tim Roth's Detective Bryer is all over him like a tramp on chips. The lies start to spiral and the future suddenly looks very bleak indeed. An It's A Wonderful Life-style supernatural intervention is certainly not on the cards.
Cinema has seen many 'Rich Man lands himself and family in serious s**t of his own making', but few can be as convincingly realised as Arbitrage. Richard Gere's performance is multi-layered and far from black or white. As the pressure grows on him, the agony is clearly etched on his face as Gere's disarming nature suits the character well, while also exuding the selfish and hedonistic cravings that threaten his self-destruction. Nor does the film seek to judge Miller's actions, leaving the viewer to freely construct their own opinion of his conduct, whether he deserves any sympathy and the extent of his bastardness.
Despite not being a conventional button-pressing thriller, especially given its ambiguous (and arguably underwhelming) ending, the film bears many moments of pulsating tension through the 'cat and mouse' pursuit of Miller by Bryer. Their varying skills of evasion and entrapment are exciting to watch unfold and the cleverly constructed script keeps you guessing about the outcome and brings out many absorbing themes. Of particular potency is the meditation on the thin line between blackmail and negotiation.
Jarecki's direction also complements the story, with the subtly stylised visuals lending a suitably autumnal air to proceedings, with the leaves falling off trees and withering in parallel with Robert Miller's fortunes. The dialogue is also crisp, with a number of cutting lines. Miller's wife Ellen, who takes on increasing prominence and is skilfully played by Susan Sarandon, arguably has the finest, telling her shady husband: "Do you want to be the richest guy in the cemetery?"
Arbitrage is a rewarding, thought-provoking movie that deserves to find a wide audience. Perfectly cast, with Richard Gere's complex lead turn bolstered by support from Roth and Sarandon, it says a great deal about the nature of the world and makes us confront our own involvement in this facade.