Published Jan 03, 2013
Though thematically similar to an abundance of other politically motivated titles (In Time
, The Dark Knight Rises
, Margin Call
) of late, similarly reminding us of the high-end cost of a capitalist ethos, Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage works as a contextually appropriate throwback thriller unto itself. It steps back 15 years to emulate the style of film popular prior to the self-inflicted economic crisis, indulging in the sleazy, adult thriller morality plays that warned us, with prescience, about the dangers of recklessly rewarding every id impulse available. Appropriately, the morally conflicted man in crisis, Robert Miller, is played by Richard Gere (Final Analysis
, Dr. T and the Women
), who delivers one of the strongest performances of his career as a successful and married hedge fund magnate, who's sleeping with a younger French artist on the side, when not manipulating global investment options, and his finances for audit purposes, personal gain and greed. Much like the eventual implosion of the investment and mortgage structure that allowed men like him to live a life of casual, decadent entitlement, his secrets eventually come to the surface when a car accident leaves his mistress dead and him injured. As industrious detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) closes in on his involvement with the car accident, his daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), closes in on his financial subterfuge, leading to identity deconstruction and a narrative that consciously pits identification against the protagonist villain, noting our cinematic history of forcing identification onto those that are morally ambiguous. Beyond the obvious cleverness of melding film history with the modern political climate to subtly suggest where our cultural misguidance comes from, Arbitrage
plays as a wholly entertaining and compelling thriller. Every character has their language and unspoken motivations, giving the dramatic interplay added emotional heft. We know that Detective Bryer knows more than he's letting on, just as we know that Miller's wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon), probably isn't as daft or unaware of everything going on as she pretends. Jarecki has crafted a complex character piece where everyone plays their hand close to their chest, which makes the audience's external vantage point seem like voyeuristic indulgence. Amidst the interview supplements, "Who is Robert Miller?" and "A Glimpse into Arbitrage," the various actors discuss the complexity of the script and the project, noting how great it was to play characters that don't spell out their motivations from the get-go. Jarecki also expands upon his political motivations and inspirations for the film during his feature-length commentary included with the Blu-Ray.