‘Arbitrage' falls flat despite great supporting cast work

Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere star in ‘Arbitrage.’ (Photography by Myles Aronowitz, courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 12:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 12:55 p.m.

It's a really difficult feat to make a compelling movie about a character who is essentially a selfish jerk. This isn't to say that it can't be done; in 1987, Oliver Stone put Wall Street hustler Gordon Gekko, a man whose motto is “Greed is good,” at the center of the movie “Wall Street,” and the result was a great success. Now along comes “Arbitrage,” another movie about a financial trader with a missing moral center. Given recent history, it would seem like this is a can't-miss premise, but “Arbitrage” falls flat due to a plodding screenplay and a plodding performance in the lead role.



Rated: R
Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate
Parker, Stuart Margolin

That lead role belongs to Richard Gere as Robert Miller, a Mitt Romney-type leader of a major Wall Street hedge fund. As the story begins, Miller is returning to New York (in his private jet, no less) from a failed business trip. It's his 60th birthday, and though everything seems fine and he gives a toast saluting his family and

good fortune during the celebration, Miller is in dire straits. His firm is in danger of insolvency, he's cooking the books to stay afloat and he has a temperamental mistress.

Things get more complicated when the mistress dies in a car crash while the two of them are headed upstate for a romantic getaway. Miller leaves the scene out of fear of having his infidelity discovered and thus ends up facing enormous pressure on several fronts at once.

There's lots of potential for great drama here: Financial scheming, corporate malfeasance, personal indiscretions, a crime that's been covered up, etc. Yet one of the curious things about “Arbitrage” is how lifeless the proceedings are. In spite of the seemingly high stakes and the amount of trouble Miller gets himself into, the film never really comes alive and engages the audience.

The primary failure here belongs to Gere. Whereas Michael Douglas exuded charisma, brilliance and ruthlessness in “Wall Street” as Gordon Gekko, Gere seems to flounder as Miller. Gere alternates between being curiously subdued (especially for a man who could go to jail for any one of several crimes) and frantic outbursts of over-the-top bluster and anger. We never buy into Miller's struggle.

To be fair to Gere, the screenplay by writer/director Nicholas Jarecki isn't great; the plot is meandering and yet still predictable, while most of the dialogue is flat and heavy-handed.

Given the screenplay's flaws, it's surprising how good the supporting cast is. As Jimmy, a friend Miller ends up making complicit in his misdeeds, Nate Parker does a great job of portraying someone torn between loyalty and a desire to do the right thing. Brit Marling does a similarly excellent job as Brooke Miller, Robert's daughter who also serves as the CFO of his firm. A key scene in which Robert reveals the

depth of his financial fraud to Brooke works in large part because Marling completely sells how betrayed she feels.

The standout among the supporting cast, however, is Tim Roth as the bulldog detective investigating the accident in which Miller's mistress was killed. Roth easily walks away with every scene he's in and gets all the best lines, delivering them with a laconic wit that belies an inner tenacity and strong sense of justice. He's tired of seeing the rich get away, literally, with murder because they know how

to game the system, and he's determined to take Miller down.

There are a few other noteworthy elements as well. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux is gorgeous; the cool color palette reflects Miller's cold, calculating worldview. Additionally, the pulsating score by Cliff Martinez effectively underscores the tension that the script often fails to generate, reflecting his similar work in “Drive,” “Contagion” and “Traffic.”

Ultimately, however, “Arbitrage” fails to achieve its goal, and its stock is unlikely to make much headway at the box office.

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