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Arbitrage | Review

Margin Kill: This JareckI Went to Wall Street for an Uneven Debut

Arbitrage is defined as “the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices.” It’s also a big no-no and the title of Nicholas Jarecki Arbitrage Poster’s fictional feature debut. Previously, this Jarecki, like his brothers Eugene and Andrew, began in the documentary realm with his first film The Outsider (2005) about director James Toback during the making of the 2004 independent film When Will I Be Loved (an excellent and underrated film—seek this out before watching the doc). Arbitrage is a mechanically sound and consistently entertaining film, with some noteworthy performances. However, after the film concludes, it’s hard to find anything to be enthusiastic about it.

Richard Gere stars as Robert Miller, a hedge fund magnate currently in the midst of attempting to cover up how he recently had to cook his books (to the tune of 400 million) after a bad Russian investment (minor detail). He’s just turned 60, his friend that lent him the bucks to plug his hole for the ongoing audit is demanding the money back by the end of the week and both his company and family’s financial future may be compromised. Thankfully, despite a doting wife (Susan Sarandon), and bright offspring (including Brit Marling) employed at his company, he also has a beautiful French artist mistress (Laetitia Casta) on the side.

After some slight quibbles, Miller takes his mistress on a night time rendezvous and gets into a car accident, which results in her death. Fleeing the scene, Miller calls on Jimmy (Nate Parker) to fetch him. After consulting his lawyer in the morning, it’s decided that Miller will not turn himself in—any scandal will result in the audit discovering his fraud, and since he’s currently trying to sell his company, this will endanger the livelihood of his children’s future. Defrauding investors is one thing, but accidentally killing your mistress and leaving her body to burn? Is there no end to his depravity?

Arbitrage feels like two different films, one that’s a compelling financial tale involving patriarchal sabotage, and a less interesting by the numbers old-dude-kills-hot-young-thing tale we’ve seen a thousand times before (yes, Gere looks good, but this plot point is more flaccid than his character appears to be). While this story line does give rise to an interesting role for Nate Parker (less so for investigator Tim Roth, but he’s always a welcome film presence) one can’t help but laugh when the rich white man needs someone to call at 4am to bail him out it happens to be a young black man from Brooklyn.

If there’s anything worthy from this part of the narrative, it’s the exploitative nature of a creature like Robert Miller calling the only contact he has whose life he appears fine compromising. But, by far, the best scene of the film is between Gere and Marling, who discovers her father’s fraudulent ways and has a confrontation with him in Central Park. Marling nails the scene, and it’s the few moments like this that make Arbitrage a good film. Less so when Sarandon decides she needs to divorce Gere because he violated their agreement by letting the kids catch on, in her words “breaking their poor girl’s heart.” Gere thinks this is good experience for their kid, as, “It’s a cold world out there,” to which Sarandon glibly responds, “Get a coat.” Jarecki’s latest, while an altogether decent film, needs a warm-up, too. Too much of this has been done before and we already know that greed is good, and so on and so forth.

Reviewed on January 22 at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival – PREMIERES Programme.
103 Mins

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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