Director: Nicholas Jarecki
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Lucky Monkey Pictures
The specter of real-life, high-level embezzler Bernie Madoff looms over Arbitrage, a slow burning sort-of thriller in which the dirty tricks and betrayals start piling up early and rarely let up.
The nasty fun and games begin when a slick, smug Manhattan hedge fund guru, played by Richard Gere, ducks out of his 60th birthday party thrown by wife Susan Sarandon and daughter and company CEO Brit Marling to canoodle at the apartment of his young French artist mistress (Laetitia Casta). We soon see that everything about Gere’s white-collar robber baron screams phony and, in the course of the often-contrived action, he’s revealed to be a moral cipher who owes millions, keeps phony ledgers, bamboozles investors, casually lies to everyone around him and will stop at nothing — even deeply implicating a friend (Nate Parker) in a fatal car crash — in a desperate attempt to throw a relentless detective (Tim Roth) off his own putrid scent. He’s got a fortune — and a family — to protect, after all.
During the film’s 100-minute running time, the walls close in on Gere’s character in such dramatic ways that, if the action weren’t so hushed, restrained and predictable, the audience might cheer. Sarandon is vibrant but underused, Marling is starchy and Roth certainly appears to be having fun laying it on thick. But the chilly, crisp movie, written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki in his big-screen bow, is a showpiece for Gere.
Even though rakish sleazebag roles have pretty much been the actor’s stock in trade for decades, Gere’s laser-focused, understated, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him performance is his most riveting work in years. In fact, given the overly familiar, emotionally uninvolving territory Arbitrage inhabits, we’re grateful Gere is on hand to strike a match to this particular bonfire of the vanities.