johnlink ranks ARBITRAGE (2012)

After an unintentional run of action films on this site dating back the last couple of weeks, it is nice to get at something slightly different. ARBITRAGE is an economic thriller, which is not exactly a major sub-genre. Smartly, it also evolves into a more traditional thriller as it goes on. But now I am getting ahead of myself…


I watched ARBITRAGE (2012) on 7.30.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a hedge fund manager cheating on his books, cheating on his wife, and generally cheating his way through life. He is likable enough to have gotten away with it all as this movie starts on his 60th birthday. His wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon) seems the ideal, non-questioning matriarch. Her only mistake is to have gotten older in a world which allows men to do so without repercussions, whereas the woman is in danger of being replaced. He also has a whip-smart daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling) who is beginning to wonder why there are holes in the records. He can handle all of that, still, as he has an affair with a young French artist named Julie (Laetitia Casta). He is out of the house all the time anyway, so his time with her goes unnoticed.

When something goes wrong in his personal life, he calls on the son of a former business associate for help. This young black kid, Jimmy (Nate Parker) is both the most honorable person in the movie and the most obvious symbol. When Robert tells his lawyer that he called Jimmy because ‘he isn’t like everyone else they know’ the lawyer assumes Robert means that Jimmy is black and out of the money. Robert actually means that he is the only honorable person he knows.

The mess he gets himself into is complicated by the cooked books which can go unnoticed as long as the sale of his company goes through. A cop (Tim Roth) starts sniffing around. He immediately figures out Richard’s guilt. He can easily connect the dots. Only, he doesn’t have the evidence. He invents some.

The movie, then, is really about when it is okay to lie and cheat. Interestingly, ARBITRAGE is a movie which seems to reinforce the idea that it is okay to use your money to influence right and wrong. It situates Robert as the hero. When he figures out the detective’s cheating it is a heroic moment. When the detective later vents his frustration to a judge we have already dismissed that character as untrustworthy. Perhaps this is turning the camera on the audience and asking us to dump our typical assumptions of the protagonist/antagonist relationship. However, this is a film which doesn’t punish it’s central character nearly enough.

When it tries to go there at the end it doesn’t land with full impact. We assume Robert will get his way in the end, and the alternative doesn’t seem bad at all. He does a noble thing for Jimmy, but not until he has the required distance he needs. While this is a script that I have a ton of respect for, it may also be one who’s central thesis I don’t agree with personally.

Despite all of that, this is a film which entertains despite being filled with a whole lot of uninteresting financial jargon. Gere does a solid job of being likable and nobody in this movie comes across as purely villainous. This is partly thanks to a decent script, and partly thank to some useful performances by all involved. This is a dramatic film which doesn’t have any particularly sour notes at any given moment.

If you are looking for pure thriller, this may not be the one to pick. But if you are looking for a little nuance and subtlty in your thriller, you could do a lot worse than ARBITRAGE.




FINAL SCORE: 7 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on July 31, 2014.

One Response to “johnlink ranks ARBITRAGE (2012)”

  1. Good review John. The cast is what makes it good. Everything else about it is relatively conventional and rather confusing. At certain times, that is.

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