Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the return of Richard Gere! As a 19-year-old, I never knew the Gere who became a legend with such hits as An Officer and a Gentleman, American Gigolo, Pretty Woman, and more. Growing up, Richard Gere was more a fledging actor and the fading star of lackluster horror films (Mothman Prophecies) and schlocky romances (Shall We Dance? Nights in Rodanthe). Not anymore. In Arbitrage, Nicholas Jarecki’s sleek and addictive debut feature, Gere stuns with an Oscar-caliber performance in a film of unpredictable shocks and jolts. Take note Academy, Gere is back and better than ever.
In the film’s brilliant prologue, we cut in on an interview with Robert Miller, a billionaire hedge fund magnate with enough money to solve any problem. In the hands of the talented Jarecki, the camera continually spins, moves, and cuts as Miller speaks, showing the financial titan from a handful of vantage points but never lingering on one particular angle for too long. All of this begs to ask – Who really is Robert Miller? It’s a truly fascinating question and one that becomes the thrilling pulse of Arbitrage.
As played by Gere, Miller is a charismatic businessman, husband, and father. You’d expect a man with so much money to be a pompous snob, but Gere, through his soft spoken tone and sly smirks, exudes a humble seductiveness; here is a character we come to admire and respect, a man with a firm hand in business and a warm heart in family – what could be better? The answer: a lot. Underneath that charming shell, Miller is covering up a $412 million company debt and a lustful affair with a young French artist. Then, to make matters worse, there’s a singular event that leaves Miller shattered and the audience truly jaw dropped; why trailers for the film have spoiled this unexpected shock is beyond me! Going in, I had no idea a twist of this magnitude was coming and the film was all the more suspenseful because of it – I hope you do the same and go in blind.
That’s what ultimately makes Arbitrage so addictive and thrilling: so much happens that exposes Miller’s vicious power and greed that part of us wants to see him brought down, yet Gere consistently plays the part with earnest conviction and passion so that another part of us wants to see Miller get away so he can fix his damaged life. Is Miller a villain? An anti-hero? The search for the answer is a dizzying mind game and it’s endlessly fascinating. It helps too that the more Miller’s life spirals out of control the more Gere comes to fiery life on screen; be it his intense directness during business negotiations or his shattering confidence as he tries to hide his leaking secrets from his family, Gere is a spectacle to watch as Miller becomes a claustrophobe to his own collapsing empire.
Luckily, Gere is surrounded by a handful of strong supporting players, from Tim Roth to Brit Marling, Susan Sarandon, and Nate Parker. The women, in particular, shine in the film’s third act as each gets a confrontation with Miller that sizzles, first the heartbreaking Marling as Miller’s blindsided daughter and then the cunning Sarandon as Miller’s wife, who may or may not know all of her husband’s dirty secrets (the climactic confrontation between the two is grade A). To comment on Roth and Parker’s performances would spoil that central twist, but Parker is an emotional breakthrough as Jimmy Grant, a young man who helplessly gets sucked in to Miller’s world of lies and deceit. The plot eventually boils up to a crucial decision Jimmy must make – turn Miller in and save himself or go to prison protecting a man he respects – and Parker’s quiet display of fear makes the events all the more emotional and intense.
Also of value is Cliff Martinez’ hypnotic score. With Drive and Contagion also under his belt, Martinez is slowing becoming the go to composer for thrillers, and in Arbitrage, his reliable blend of pulsating synths and thumping beats keeps things at a brisk pace. Kudos to Jarecki too, whose keen eye for detail and sharp sense of suspense also keeps the film moving with building tension. I particularly loved Jarecki’s decision to often shoot Miller from behind, as if to imply he’s a man so damaged and corrupt that we can’t even look him straight on in the face (very Scorsese/Travis Bickle if you ask me).
Ultimately, Arbitrage belongs to Richard Gere who dominates every frame he’s in. With Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln) already turning on the Oscar buzz, Gere may not be the winner of the Oscar for Best Actor come February but he damn well should be nominated, he’s just too good in this nifty thriller to ignore. If only money could buy him the win – now that’d be a dirty move right up Robert Miller’s ally.
Review by Zack Sharf