The threat of a Madoff-like collapse adds timeliness and tension to Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage, a screw-turner about a man whose greed may finally have caught up with him. Familiar but not stale and greatly helped by Richard Gere's fine-tuned performance, it has strong commercial potential.
Gere plays Robert Miller, a Manhattan investment "oracle" with a $400 million secret: He's lost half his investment fund's reserves and is defrauding auditors so he can sell his business to a major financial institution. As in the case of Madoff, a scandal would affect Miller's family more than usual: His daughter (Brit Marling, a bit stiff here) is his chief investment officer and, knowing nothing of the accounting shenanigans, stands to lose not only her job but any hope of getting another.
Miller plays similar games with his love life, inappropriately shifting assets to where they're most urgently needed. Trying to keep his neglected mistress happy with an impromptu trip upstate, he wrecks her car and kills her. He flees the scene with the reluctant help of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a former employee's son -- but Grant, a black man outside Miller's moneyed circles, quickly is found by detectives working the case.
As the lead detective, Tim Roth swaggers entertainingly, sprawling on any available piece of furniture as he tries to dig up the dirty truth he instinctively knows. As the cop squeezes Grant to get to Miller, Jarecki's script touches lightly on issues of class and race, and Gere handles confrontations with finesse: He's a man who can convince himself he cares about the pawns in his game and can be generous without prompting when it might head off potential defections.
Nothing about the plot is novel, but the film easily maintains a low simmer that picks up in the final act as Miller has to fight to keep his sinking ship staffed. Face-offs with Grant, his daughter and his wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon, deserving more attention from the script), come in quick succession, and any one of the three -- along with a couple of close business associates -- could easily ruin Miller's life.
Will Miller weasel out of the spot he's in, or will Roth's class-conscious flatfoot finally be able to bring a fat cat to justice? It's hard to say whether fatalism or class-warrior wish fulfillment is most true to the times. Jarecki's own give-and-take solution might not be entirely convincing, but it might be the best deal we can reasonably expect.
Cast Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Nate Parker
Director Nicholas Jarecki
Rated R, 106 minutes