Working your entire life in the world of finance, where the almighty dollar reigns, it’s easy to forget that not all things can be bought and sold. Some things hold value that can’t be measured and it’s not until they’ve slipped from your grasp that you realize what you’ve foolishly sold off for a fraction of its worth. Such is the story of Arbitrage which sees Richard Gere (in one of his best roles in the last decade) as a financial mogul in the process of selling his empire, only to see the deal fall into jeopardy after an accident and a selfish decision force him to begin bargaining with everyone around him for commodities that can’t be bought or sold. Writer and Director Nicholas Jarecki’s thoughtful indictment of the self-interested capitalist mentality that plunged this nation into chaos owes a lot to Gere’s performance—as well as a supporting cast of Tim Roth, Brit Marling, and Susan Sarandon—but it’s also the level of restraint shown in its condemnation of Gere’s character that makes the film feel like a genuine story and not a sermon.
At 60, Robert Miller (Gere) is just one business deal away from selling his investment firm and settling into retirement with his wife Ellen (Sarandon). Also on the books for his newfound spare time is his affair with aspiring artist Julie (Laetitia Casta), the tragic death of whom sets in motion the dominoes that could halt the business deal in its tracks. In order to keep everything moving forward, he hides his involvement in her death with the help of a family friend (Nate Parker) who then becomes implicated himself and backed into a corner where he must choose what he values more: his integrity or his future. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg though, as Robert has hidden another crime in his company’s books and his daughter Brooke (Marling), his firm’s investment officer, discovers it days before the deal’s to take place.
Arbitrage, according to a dictionary, is defined as “the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices”. While this practice lies at the heart of the firm Robert Miller has built his fortune around, in the framework of the story, the only properties we see bought and sold in such a fashion are the integrity of those around him. And while he’s happy to throw money around to fix his problems, all of which could essentially cost everything he is and has, those on the receiving end of his wallet aren’t always as keen on the exchange rate of cash for character.
It hearkens back to the old adage that the best things in life are free, or in a variation of that, not for sale. The people around Robert help him not because he sets them up with trust funds or secures their financial futures, but out of a sense of loyalty that he clearly doesn’t know how to reciprocate. That sensibility of trust as something earned but which exceeds any monetary value is an impossibility to him. Of course your testimony is for sale, whether you think so or not, and Robert is more than happy to let you think otherwise as long as you help him out. And therein lies the problem of the film: it’s not entirely clear, after his pyrrhic victories of defeating the murder investigation and selling off his company at the cost of his wife and daughter’s trust, whether Robert has any inkling that what he’s done was wrong.
That ambiguity is interesting in a way, as it certainly makes us curious to know what becomes of him once the credits start rolling, but it’s also sublimely frustrating. For all that it cost him, we’re given no evidence on a deeper level that Robert believes the price he paid was too high, and certainly not in the way that would signify some level of growth on his part. His greatest upset is over financial loss more than anything else, which is firmly in-line with his character at the start of the film, but says nothing of how the film’s events have changed him. It’s less a fault of Gere’s superb performance and more a lack of any instance in the script where such a concession could take place. The film seems intent on ending and getting it over with instead of offering some amount of closure to Robert’s fall.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
The extras are fairly basic with deleted scenes, an audio commentary by Jarecki, and two featurettes on the film’s production and its protagonist. There’s nothing particularly special to it all.
"Arbitrage" is on sale December 21, 2012 and is rated R. Drama. Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. Starring Brit Marling, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth.