Arbitrage is a word that 99.99 percent of us probably never heard of until the movie with that title appeared. I looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered why nobody had heard of it. It refers to Wall Street financiers and has a meaning so convoluted that I couldn’t figure it out. Thank goodness the website clarified its definition as “the possibility of risk-free profit at zero cost.” That might be a nice way of saying that the Wall Street fat cats can make irresponsible investments and then have the U.S. taxpayers bail them out.
I actually didn’t bring up the word to talk about banks that are too big to fail. That story has been told umpteen times. I actually wanted to talk about the movie that brought celebrity to that word. If you haven’t seen “Arbitrage” you might want to take a chance on it. It’s certainly different than your run-of-the-mill, high-finance suspense thriller.
Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon star in this superb movie about a man who seems to have everything. Gere seems perfect for the role since you immediately peg him as the same kind of successful billionaire he portrayed in “Pretty Woman.” In that movie he was a cut-throat businessman who deep down was a decent human being. He appears to be the same basic character in this film. Gere is portrayed at the outset as a highly successful Wall Street trader and devoted family man.
Digressing for a moment, I can understand why good actors hate to be stereotyped. I remember when the mini-series “Roots” was on back in the 1970s and seeing Lorne Greene portraying the slave owner who purchases Kunta Kinte. My instinctive reaction was that at least the poor kid was bought by Ben Cartwright, the “Bonzana” patriarch. It was a little off-putting to discover that “Ben Cartwright” could be as brutal and cold-blooded as any other slave owner.
Back on topic, as you might guess, Gere is not the same successful businessman who appeared in “Pretty Woman.” He looks like it in the opening scenes when he flies around in his private jet and celebrates his 60th birthday surrounded by his loving wife, kids and grandchildren. The guy seems to have it all.
We quickly discover that his utopian world isn’t all it appears to be. He has clearly been caught up in the disastrous Wall Street investment schemes that caused the Great Recession and left his corporation on the brink of bankruptcy. His only hope is to “cook the books” and sell the company before anyone finds out. It is a race against time as he is dealing with a reluctant buyer, an ill-timed audit, and a daughter who as the chief financial officer discovers something is amiss.
To top it off, this “devoted” husband and family man has a gorgeous young mistress on the side. All hell breaks loose when he falls asleep at the wheel of his car while driving with her to a lakeside cabin in upstate New York (Cooperstown, perhaps?). The car flips over and his mistress is killed. Totally freaked out, he leaves the scene and hopes he can avoid being tied to it.
It can’t possibly get any worse. Gere’s character has not only bankrupted his company and betrayed his family, but has caused his lover’s death and left the scene of the accident. How in the world is he ever going to recover from the disasters he brought upon himself?
What is so great about this film is that it resolves these dilemmas in a believable way that you cannot foresee. Two aspects that add to the suspense are the fact the police know he was involved in his lover’s death and his daughter realizes he has done something fraudulent with their company. Gere’s character can’t just rely on cover-ups and false alibis.
The casting in this movie is outstanding. Gere plays his role beautifully, as does Sarandon as his devoted wife, Brit Marling as his perplexed daughter, Tim Roth as the suspicious police detective, and Nate Parker as his former employee’s son who comes to his aid after the accident. For the baby-boomers among us who are into trivia, try to guess which actor other than these once appeared in the “teasers” on “Love American Style” back in the early 1970s.
The most fascinating thing about this film is that you might not appreciate how good it is when it’s first over. You may be turned off by the depressing nature of the not-so-good guy trying to save his life and reputation. But the more you think about it the more you realize how well-crafted the movie is. I definitely give it two thumbs up.