After a few years languishing in direct-to-video projects, Richard Gere comes roaring back with one of his finest performances in director Nicholas Jarecki's feature debut, “Arbitrage.” Gere brings surety and a sleazy undercurrent to his superb turn as Robert Miller, a billionaire hedge fund manager whose hubris in both his business and personal lives comes back to bite him.
In a profession filled with sharks, Robert is a great white. Having built his fund into a powerhouse family business and installed his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) as his chief financial officer, Robert is now 60 and looking to cash in his chips. Robert plans to sell the fund to James Mayfield, a buyer who appears to be stalling the deal. Played convincingly by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, Mayfield sends lackeys to scheduled meetings with Robert and requests independent audits of the fund. He has reason to sit on the fence: Robert padded out the fund's value with an under-the-table loan, and when the benefactor unexpectedly pulls his funding, Robert cooks the books without Brooke's knowledge.
His cavalier attitude extends to his personal life, as well. His wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) looks the other way while Robert sneaks out to see art dealer Julie Cote (former Victoria's Secret model Laetitia Casta). Then, a fateful assignation with Julie threatens to unravel Robert's carefully constructed web of lies, and as a police detective (Tim Roth) begins to look closely at who Robert Miller really is, several people in the billionaire's circle of trust could fall.
Jarecki, who also wrote the script, is previously known for “The Outsider,” a documentary on renegade director James Toback, and the screenplay for the disjointed and utterly laughable Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, “The Informers.” But with “Arbitrage,” Jarecki takes a huge creative leap, building tension and rising stakes as the notes for Robert's life of lies come due. He has created a complex lead character, an amoral backstabber who, for all his malfeasance, can still gain the viewers' partial, guarded sympathy, no matter how much they might resist.
When given the chance, Gere can go all the way playing dark characters with complex interiors, and this is his best such performance since 2006's “The Hoax.” He is in about 95 percent of the scenes, and he convinces at every turn. “Arbitrage” is a zeitgeist movie populated with the kind of people whose power grabs imperiled the world's financial markets four years ago. It would be easy to just make Miller a broadly drawn villain, but Jarecki and Gere make this scoundrel utterly human, and “Arbitrage” is so much more effective as a result.
— George Lang
Starring: Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Susan Sarandon. (Language, brief violent images and drug use)