Written and directed by current wunderkind Nicholas Jarecki, this is a slick, star-studded Hollywood offering that spins a great yarn but provides the viewer with nobody to root for (and dear reader, would you really prefer that I say “nobody for whom to root?”).
Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, which is really just another version of his classic role: a smooth-talking, rich, hard-driving entrepreneur who flies private jets everywhere, or is driven in his stretch limo by his private chauffeur. Robert Miller has lots of minions under him, and demands a lot from them, including cutting corners and cooking books when he deems it necessary.
Robert Miller sits atop a very prosperous multi-layered corporation, but there are serious cracks in the financial foundation which he is trying desperately to hide, especially during the tense, protracted buyout negotiations. Yes, he’s selling his firm, publicly so he can think about retirement and spend more time with his family. Privately,
he’s in such an untenable hedge position that he has to do something, and quickly, but somehow without seeming to be in a panic. He’s so smooth and debonair, and practiced in “the art of the deal,” that he seriously thinks he can pull this off. (OK, dear reader, do you object to that particular grammatical construction?)
Oh, and Robert Miller is having an affair, as well, with a hot, hot-tempered French artist, Julie (Laetitia Costa), who pouts when he’s late for their “assignations,” but he’s a little distracted and preoccupied right now. Of course, he acts like everything is normal at home, and his wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon) seems so understanding and supportive. Their adult daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), is active in the financial end of the business (though her Dad is keeping from her some of the sleigh-of-hand he’s currently performing, not only because it’s illegal, but because he doesn’t want to disappoint her). Their son also takes a salary from the business, but is apparently a non-factor in its actual operations, being content to just get paid to do nothing. Robert Miller, for his part, enjoys the idea that everyone is dependent on him. Being the patriarch is a role which he has readily embraced. And one that he is not going to give up easily. Even when the whole house of cards starts falling down around him. He sees this as just another challenge to his superior tactical skills, where he can turn on the considerable charm when necessary, and also play the tough negotiator when he needs to (dear reader, how about that one?).
Yes, this is a self-conscious review, and “Arbitrage” is about a very self-conscious high-stakes operator. Though he’s the main character, he doesn’t really develop, he just deals with the increasing pressure. The characters around him definitely change, especially in their attitudes toward him, but that doesn’t seem to affect him much, either.
In the end, “Arbitrage” is like its main character: smooth, polished, alluring, and intentionally devoid of soul.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas