By Joan Ellis
Arbitrage brings the Wall Street predators of today’s headlines to vivid life. In an unexpectedly strong performance, Richard Gere creates Robert Miller, a commanding hedge fund manager who lacks the morality and stewardship we naively wish might accompany power.
“If it’s legal, just do it” is the contemporary refrain. But beyond managing investments, Miller is infected with another contemporary strain: Greed beyond normal reward. There is no limit to his hunger.
Shortly after we are introduced to him, we learn that Miller has taken a ruinous leap into a Russian copper mine deal that promised to deliver the vast riches that often seduce even the most successful of players. As he tries to cover the money he has used from his investors’ funds, both his professional and personal life begin to unravel in a series of lies – lies to colleagues, to family, to clients, to police. All this, the man still insists, is for his family, their lifestyle, and the foundation they manage for the good of others. And who, we wonder, speaks truth to power?
The movie is beautifully filmed against the unparalleled concentration of the city lights of a New York night. Miller’s life is one of black suits, an ever-waiting black car and dark nights in the house he shares in mutual coolness with his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon). And then there’s the fancy apartment he has bought his mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta). This man has everything he wants.
We are introduced to his business and family in a flash of ingenious first scenes as Miller is driven home, late as always, for his 60th birthday party arranged by Ellen for the family. We meet daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) who is also the chief investment officer at his company. Miller’s polished warmth is one shade too close to perfect. We wait for the dark side.
This is far too good a story for me to drop clues to its twists and turns. It’s enough to say that Miller is juggling a wife, a mistress, an extremely smart daughter and a collapsing life. When his lawyer advises him that his accumulating string of lies will destroy him, we know Miller is being sucked into a hole swirling with personal betrayal, fraud, and arrogance.
Richard Gere radiates charm over a pervasive layer of narcissistic smarm as he builds a thoroughly credible portrait of Robert Miller. Brit Marling becomes a compelling focus as Brooke, the daughter who finally sees her father’s core. Susan Sarandon, in a restrained performance, is our clue to a final surprise – a collusion of sorts that upends everything we have expected. Watch the final scenes carefully.
Nate Parker gets great credit for a nuanced role as Jimmy. Torn between loyalty and honor, Jimmy asks Robert Miller, “Do you think money is going to fix this?” And our hero replies, “What else is there?” That is exactly the engine that drives writer-director Nicholas Jarecki’s high-tension Wall Street thriller.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.