Richard Gere cooks the books in “Arbitrage,” an elegantly crafted potboiler that fires on all cylinders, giving the “Officer and a Gentlemen” star his juiciest role yet.
Gere delivers his best performance to date as Robert Miller, a hedge fund magnate secretly on the brink of bankruptcy. In a shady move to make his company look profitable and enticing to potential buyers, Miller borrows half a billion dollars from an associate (played by director William Friedkin) to temporarily store in his accounts. With a sale pending, his associate demands his money back, against Miller’s protests. Miller is then caught in a series of escalating nightmares, from an affair gone wrong to the looming merger deadline to becoming the target in a police investigation.
Gere is superb at portraying the sliding scale of success. When things are going strong for Miller, Gere gives us a raucous, pompous performance of a man deifying himself. Gere really shines, though, as Miller comes close to losing everything. He keeps up the façade of a sparkling billionaire, but behind those eyes we see raw fear and a conscience devouring itself.
Director Nicholas Jarecki’s first feature shows that he is a master juggler, keeping many equally intriguing threads of the story in the air without ever letting them fall. Miller’s scheme is mere inches from success when he accidentally kills his mistress (Laetitia Casta) in a car accident, bringing forth questions from the police and his wife (Susan Sarandon). He works hard to avoid NYPD Det. Bryer’s (Tim Roth) scrutiny while working the legal system to get his patsy (Nate Parker) off an accomplice charge. On top of all that, Miller must hide his fraudulent business dealings from his heir-apparent daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) and try to negotiate his buyer into purchasing his failed company. Jarecki gives us a fascinating look into the mind of a financially and morally bankrupt individual.
Jarecki fashions a wonderful Shakespearean character with Miller. We witness him consciously make terrible choice after terrible choice, like a tragic hero. No matter which road he takes, Miller is on his way to a very bad place. Though he is a pretty rotten person and quite conscious his actions are destroying everyone around him, it’s hard to not have a modicum of empathy for Miller. That’s both a testament to Gere’s performance as much as Jarecki’s screenplay.
Gere is wonderfully contrasted by the gutsy and grimy performance by Tim Roth as Detective Bryer. Roth is coarse as he cuts through all the seedy economic and legal details, desperately trying to stick evidence to the sly and slithering Miller. Susan Sarandon gives a noteworthy performance as Miller’s wife. She expertly turns a seemingly non-existent role from the first half of the film into a heavy-hitting, blood-boiling performance by film’s end.
“Arbitrage” is a resurrection of sorts for Gere. He is a perfect fit for Robert Miller, just as “Arbitrage” is a perfect fit for the star.
“Arbitrage” opens in theaters and is also available on-demand on September 14.