Thursday, November 08, 2012

Review: Arbitrage

If there were a movie about Mitt Romney, no one other than Richard Gere could play him. Just as Romney, unfairly or not, is typecast as an over-privileged, condescending, out-of-touch d-bag, those are pretty much the only roles Gere gets. Good thing Gere is better at Romney at doing what he does.

In Arbitrage Gere plays Robert Miller, a master of the universe who made a killing on betting on the housing bubble to burst. The world regards him in awe, as some sort of visionary — the Nate Silver of derivatives trading. But inside, Miller's world is dissolving. He's overextended, getting by on credit and image rather than cash. The feds are hunting him down, determined to send him and possibly his innocent heiress/business associate daughter (Brit Marling) to jail for corporate fraud, and then there's the bone-crusher, involving his mistress, a car accident and a sloppy cover-up.

Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki's drama tracks Miller's frantic struggle to keep things together by any means necessary. On the surface Miller appears to be a nice enough guy, but he's got a calculating, cold-blooded side that thrives on an uncontrollable survival instinct. He'll call in any favors he feels are owed to him and throw anyone in range under the bus to spare his own hide. The drive that got him to the top works to tear himself down even as he flails at the pieces of his life.

Susan Sarandon sparkles as Miller's socialite wife, who has made peace with the fact that she's married not to a man, but to an image that must be impeccably maintained, lest the trappings of her silver-lined life vanish. She, too, though, is a survivor, and is prepared to lock horns with her husband, using his betrayals as a bargaining chip to ensure she makes it out of the collapse intact.

Moving at a frenetic, Michael Clayton-like pace, Arbitrage is a gripping, if insignificant race to the bottom. I'm not sure why the movie was tabbed for awards consideration — there are no standout performances to fall in love with — but the film is a rugged page-turner, which is more than you can say for drawing room dullards that can dominate the season.

Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth and Nate Parker. Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. 107 minutes. Rated R.

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