Arbitrage (review)

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Arbitrage yellow light Richard Gere

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Robert Miller (Richard Gere: Amelia) is one of those bastards who helped crash the economy in 2008, and now, on his 60th birthday, he suddenly understands that it’s not his millions and his power that’s important in life but his grandkids, awww. Masters of the universe are people too! But any sense that this feature debut of writer-director Nicholas Jarecki is going to be about empathizing with Robert and his ilk quickly disappears when he slips out of his own family party to go visit a mistress. And then we’re made privy to his Wall Street crimes. And then we follow as he goes to hang out with yet another mistress. And then… something really really bad hits this machine of a man, who has thus far has been effortlessly juggling a whole lotta shitty stuff. Gere is intriguing in the role of a slickly unpleasant man who is constantly challenging us to like him more than we might, especially as he grows increasingly awful to and increasingly secretive with his wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon: Cloud Atlas), and his daughter and business partner Brooke (Brit Marling: Sound of My Voice). And Jarecki leaves us hanging for a long while wondering whether this is all going to end up being about making us swallow the bitter injustice of how the rich escape punishment for their misdeeds. For all the satisfying ironies that are dished up, however, some of what we’re served is hopelessly naive. One of Robert’s business associates, for instance, warns him in a panic that Robert is “looking at a thousand years’ jail time” for his financial crimes, which is oh-so laughable: of course he isn’t — men like Robert don’t go to prison when they cook the books; they get golden parachutes. And the investigation into Robert’s really really bad thing is headed up by an NYPD detective (Tim Roth: The Incredible Hulk) who does something so idiotic, and which is discovered in so preposterous a way, that it just about knocks down what turns out to be Jarecki’s narrative house of cards. What promised initially to be something timely and urgent feels, by the time it’s done, rather more like an episode of Law and Order. Which is no terrible thing, just smaller than we were led to expect.

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