Sunday, September 09, 2012

“Arbitrage”–Movie Review



This weekend, the bonus screenings for the Fall Semester of  my movie class began with the drama “Arbitrage”, starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Tim Roth.


When the billionaire owner of a major investment firm involves himself in cover-ups in both his personal and professional life, will he lose his family and his business as a result?



At the age of 60, Robert Miller (Gere) is proud of both his family and the wildly successful investment company he spent a lifetime building.  But despite this achievement – or perhaps because of it –  he is a man with many dark secrets, both professionally and personally.  In his private life, he has a mistress – Julie (Laetitia Casta), a beautiful young French woman who aspires to become a renowned art gallery owner.  Miller is maintaining ultimate discretion so that his wife Ellen (Sarandon) and daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) remain in the dark.  Professionally, he is hiding his company’s loss of hundreds of millions of dollars so as not to ruin the potential sale of his business – and since Brooke is his Chief Investment Officer, he must keep this a secret from her, too. 

The lies increase by many orders of magnitude when Miller crashes his car while taking Julie out of town for a brief getaway.  As a result of the accident, Julie perishes and he is seriously injured.  Realizing he can’t be connected to this, Miller decides to find a pay phone where he can call for help rather than use his cell phone, which would be traceable.  Making his way down the road, the wrecked car explodes, causing Julie’s body to be burned beyond recognition.  Finding a gas station, Miller calls Jimmy (Nate Parker), the son of a deceased business colleague.  Jimmy drives out to pick up Miller, who hasn’t reported the incident to the police. 

It is at this point that police Detective Michael Bryer (Roth) becomes involved.  Investigating what appears to be a manslaughter case, he interviews Miller and becomes suspicious; despite frequent attempts to talk with Ellen as well, she rebuffs him at every turn.  Convinced that he has enough evidence to tie Jimmy to the case, Bryer has him brought before a grand jury, where Jimmy might perjure himself.  All the while, Miller’s business deal looks like it’s going to fall through even though his company has somehow managed to pass an independent audit.  Will Miller be able to untangle himself from possible criminal charges while simultaneously close the deal on selling his business? 



The term “arbitrage” refers to the purchase of securities in one market in order to sell them in another market where a profit may be made due to a more favorable price.  I mention this not to insult your intelligence, but rather because I honestly didn’t know what it was and I had to look it up since I’m no financial wizard.  Which brings me to my first point about the movie “Arbitrage” – as an outsider to this world, I feel as though it would’ve been helpful to explain to viewers who were ignorant about such matters what exactly the term “arbitrage” refers to so they could better understand the business dealings here – and also make the title much more meaningful. 

My other gripe with this film has to do with its ending, which I will call a bit abrupt, to say the least.  The story is progressing at a rather good clip and it feels as though the filmmaker suddenly slammed on the brakes because he didn’t quite know how to end the movie.  This was rather frustrating; once the end titles start to appear on screen, I found myself reacting, “Huh?  What?  You mean it’s over?  Really?”.  So after all of that, I was left feeling deeply unsatisfied by the ending of “Arbitrage” because I didn’t get a sense as though the story had been completely wrapped up.  Too bad, since this was an otherwise interesting and suspenseful story.  Tim Roth’s performance alone makes it worth seeing.

Following the screening, our class had a brief discussion of the movie.  While the majority of the class seemed to like “Arbitrage”, our instructor also pointed out the weakness of the ending and expressed a similar disappointment that there were way too many loose threads left dangling.  He mentioned that this was the first directorial effort of Nicholas Jarecki, who also wrote the screenplay.  The instructor pointed out many excellent technical devices Jarecki used in directing the movie, including and especially the use of music to highlight a sense of impending danger, particularly leading up to the car crash. 


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