A crisp, procedural-type throwback to 1980s-style financial world thrillers about rich men behaving badly and skirting danger, writer Nicholas Jarecki's narrative feature directorial debut, Arbitrage, has the benefit of a superb, invested cast and a narrative that's plugged into the current zeitgeist in a compelling fashion. The story of a billionaire hedge fund manager trying to broker the sale of his company ahead of the discovery of either long-simmering financial impropriety or a tawdry and possibly criminal matter from his personal life, Arbitrage won't necessarily win awards for originality, but it's a sleek, engaging and efficient little cat-and-mouse thriller about some darker human impulses, and the lengths to which a man will go to maintain his rewards and style of life.
On his 60th birthday, Robert Miller (Richard Gere) appears to have it all. A Wall Street titan with a successful financial trading and investment company, Miller has a beautiful wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon), and a brilliant daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), who is his chief financial officer and heir apparent. He even has a secret mistress, French-born art magnate Julie (Laetitia Casta). What no one else knows, however, is that his company is poised to take a punishing dive — the result of an over-extended financial bet and fraudulent shell game to conceal it.
So Miller is already desperately trying to unload his troubled empire when an automobile accident with Julie leaves her dead. With the assistance of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), an unlikely face from his past, Miller selfishly flees the scene, mindful of both the secrecy of his affair and the trouble messy manslaughter charges could cause for his professional fortunes. As dogged detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) pursues various leads and zeroes in on whom he believes to be the culprit, Miller's behavior gets even shadier.
Its basic narrative is essentially a smooth-blended version of Margin Call and a rangier Law & Order episode, but one really gets a sense of Miller's captain-of-industry sense of entitlement, and also the intelligence and cloistered-world thinking that informs it. Arbitrage exists in a swirling fog of duplicity and overall grey morality — one that pulls a viewer in and binds them to the narrative, however innately familiar, by refusing to allow for the existence of white knights. Everyone here lives in compromise.
If there's an overarching criticism, it could relate to the movie's rather needlessly compressed timeline, which basically unfolds over less than 48 hours and requires a few silly leaps in logic. Still, Arbitrage is a competent, slickly made thriller of corruption and immorality — it knows of the noose, and how to tighten it. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions, R, 108 minutes)