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PARK CITY — 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 have finally caught up to 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. Like 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, is quickly 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 he 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.
PHOTOS: The Scene at Sundance 2012
Will Miller weasel out of the spot he’s in, or will Roth’s class-conscious flatfoot finally be able to bring a fatcat to justice? It’s hard to say which of the two, 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.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival, section (distributor if any)
Production Companies: Green Room Films, TreeHouse Pictures
Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon,
Director-Screenwriter: Nicholas Jarecki
Producers: Laura Bickford, Kevin Turen, Justin Nappi, Robert Salerno
Executive producers: Brian Young, Mohammed Al Turki, Lisa Wilson, Stanislaw Tyczynski, Lauren Versel, Maria Teresa Arida, Ron Curtis
Director of photography: Yorick Le Saux
Production designer: Beth Mickle
Music: Cliff Martinez
Costume designer: Joe Aulisi
Editor: Douglas Crise
Rated R, 106 minutes
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