The stock market crash highlighted the corruption on Wall Street and the kind of men who would mortgage the future on risky bets and investments. Men like Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a billionaire exec with all the bourgeois accessories that come with being a powerful man: a mistress, fancy cars , vacation homes, and more money than he can ever possibly spend.
His wife asks him if he’s out to be “the wealthiest man in the cemetery”, but for men like Miller it’s never enough, because it’s not about the money, they live for the thrill of the risk. You don’t become a billionaire by playing it safe and following the rules and regulations. Miller has no vice except the satisfaction when a gamble pays off, offering him the biggest high in the world, and the feelings of invincibility that come with extreme success can lead to a stunning fall.
It turns out that Miller made a bad bet on a Russian copper mine that’s going to cost him roughly $400 million. The Russian government is blocking export, and for Robert to get his money out it’s going to require a change in government, which Miller accepts as a long shot and assumes is never going to happen. The scene in which miller explains this scenario with such passion and zest is one of the best in the movie.
Because of this mistake, Miller decides to sell his company and cut his losses before he ends up broke and embarrassed. To cover the missing $400 million in an audit by Mayfield (Graydon Carter), a man who wants to make sure he’s making a sound investment in buying the company, Miller borrows the money from a lender and plugs the $400 million hole. The only problem is that it’s taking too long to sell, and the lender gives Miller a deadline before he withdraws the money and hands him just enough rope to hang himself.
He balances all of this and a relationship with his mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta) who he offers to take to one of his vacation homes for retreat. However, on the drive up Miller nods off at the wheel and wrecks the car, killing Julie on impact and is left with a choice: turn himself in and risk destroying his empire, or run? This frame of hiding a potential murder while covering up fraud on a massive scale is what forms the skeletal structure that is Arbitrage. Just how far will Robert go to protect his family, his interests, and most importantly, his money?
First-time director Nicholas Jarecki has a star-studded cast of Susan Sarandon as Miller’s loyal (and enabling) wife Ellen, Brit Marling (the beauty from Another Earth) whose naivety and idealism in a world of corruption makes you wonder how much of a cocoon her father kept her in, and Tim Roth as a vengeful NYPD detective who’s tired of “rich assholes” getting away with crimes simply because they’re wealthy. Nate Parker (who you can catch in Red Hook Summer) plays Jimmy Grant, a driver caught in the middle of Miller’s web.
Viewers may look at Miller and see a narcissistic aristocrat who is devoid of morals and ethics, but when you spend as much time in a cutthroat world as he does, even the most dire of situations is handled like a business deal. The problem is that he doesn’t realize that this isn’t normal. At least, that’s what Gere has us believe as he plays Robert Miller with such depth and matter-of-fact menace that it’s impossible to love him, but easy to see why no one can hate him. The movie is a vehicle for Gere who drives the entire ensemble, and puts an end to the myth of soulless shadow men on Wall Street who are only out to steal grandma’s retirement money. I don’t know if this will be the year Gere wins an Oscar, but I’d be shocked if he wasn’t nominated.
There isn’t much here that hasn’t been done in this genre before, but putting all the puzzle pieces together makes for an interesting picture. If you were a fan of Michael Clayton, or Margin Call, give Arbitrage a try, it’s a three piece suit tailored just for you.