Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gere is One Sleek Bad Boy



By Skip Sheffield

Richard Gere has been a very bad boy.

To be more concise, Richard Gere’s character in “Arbitrage” is a very badly-behaving person, and he gets worse in the progression of this white-collar thriller debut, written and directed by NYU Film School graduate Nicholas Jarecki.

Coming on the heels of “Cosmopolis,” “Arbitrage” is another timely reminder of the nasty stuff that goes on as a matter of course around Wall Street.

Gere is Robert Miller, founder and CEO of a hedge fund bearing his name. The story opens on the eve of Miller’s 60th birthday. He is at the top of his form. His brainy, loyal daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) is poised to take over after he retires. His adoring wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) is the cream of philanthropic society.

Arbitrage means taking advantages of price differences between markets. In theory one can make a risk-free profit at zero cost.

However there is a human equation involved. Hedge fund managers are supposed to adhere to the highest moral and ethical standards. Major institutions stake their resources and reputations on them. As the Bernard Madoff scandal proved, hedge funds can be a very risky business indeed and downright criminal if the guy at the top is a liar and thief.

Robert Miller is not a thief, but he is skating on the thin ice of moral and financial crisis. A bad call has put half of his hedge fund in jeopardy, and he has been robbing Peter to pay Paul to cover up for his bad judgment.

With typical arrogance of a tycoon, Miller feels he is above conventional morality. He has been having an affair with a pretty young art dealer (Laetitia Casta) and promoting her career. One reckless decision by Miller will result in tragedy for one human life and the ruination of Miller’s career and company.

As the web of deception tightens on Miller, he reaches out to an unlikely young ally named Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker, perfectly cast), and in turn Jimmy will be put in jeopardy.

Breathing down Miller’s trail is brazen, wily police detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), who is not averse to pulling off a few tricks of his own to snare the perpetrator.

Early in his career Richard Gere played a lot of idealized young romantic heroes. Now that he has silvery hair and a creased face he has more resonance and depth as an actor. This is one of his best performances ever.

The always-entertaining Tim Roth affects a skeptical combative stance and a tough New York accent for his bullying detective.

Susan Sarandon saves her best for the last as Miller’s forgiving, loyal, but quietly raging wife Ellen- finally at the end of her patience.

There is nothing novel or groundbreaking about “Arbitrage,” but it does generate a fair amount of suspense and impassioned performances all around. Sadly, the end has the ironic ring of truth. Good guys don’t always win and bad guys don’t always lose.

Nicolas Jarecki is a bright young talent to watch.

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