© 2012 Ray Wong

In financial terms, "arbitrage" means the practice and possibility of making risk-free profit with zero cost. In movie terms, Arbitrage is a story about a ruthless hedge fund magnet and the cost he must pay.

Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a Wall Street billionaire running a successful hedge fund investment company. However, unbeknownst to his family, he is in desperate need to close a deal to sell his empire to cover his track. He has been fudging his books and borrowing money from his friends to cover his losses (to pay one investor with another investor's money, so to speak -- in a way, kind of like a Ponzi scheme) based on a bad financial decision. In order to right all wrongs, in his mind, and to protect all the people he cares about (including his family and his investors), he needs to sell his company quickly for a huge profit, so he can get out of the jam without his fraud being discovered.

But his potential buyer is stalling, no doubt trying to negotiate a much lower price. Obviously, Miller is under a lot of pressure while trying to project a calm and collected exterior. He seeks a relief outlet in his mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta), who is not entirely sweet and supportive either. Then a horrible accident changes everything. Miller makes a fateful decision to leave the scene, thus making him a suspect for a possible homicide. Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) is hot on Miller's track.

Miller tries his best to cover things up, for any negative news could derail his entire deal. He makes every effort, using any resources he has, to make sure that Bryer doesn't get to him. But the cunning detective is great at playing this game, too. So can Miller get away with his crimes? What kind of price will he pay?

Richard Gere (Amelia) has truly matured as an actor over the years. As Robert Miller, Gere is handsome and charming, and projects the kind of cold, calculated calmness of a shrewd businessman. But Gere goes beyond that to give us a highly complex, flawed character that actually has an emotional life. At times the character may seem extremely unlikeable, almost sociopathic, but then Gere is able to dig deeper to make us see that it is the way the character can function, but compartmentalize his emotions and thoughts to deal with all those issues whirling around his life as a businessman and family man.

Susan Sarandon (Cloud Atlas) teams up with Gere again as his wife Ellen. She does a great job portraying a compromising wife whose first priority is her family -- the mother hen who will do anything to protect her brood, if you will, even at the cost of her marriage. As the ruthless cop, Tim Roth (Broken) matches Gere with his intensity and cunningness.

The rest of the cast is superb as well. In particular, Brit Marling (The Company You Keep) does a good job  portraying a savvy businesswoman who is also vulnerable and naive as Miller's daughter. Laetitia Casta (The Island) is fiery as Miller's temperamental mistress. The standout is Nate Parker (The Secret Life of Bees), who plays the unlikely hero in this twisted tale.

Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki (The Informer), the screenplay is taut as a thriller, but also engrossing as a character-driven drama. At times, I was a bit lost as the plot unfolds -- there are financial jargons and situations that may need a bit more development and exposition for the average audience to understand. But once that is out of the way, the story takes off as Miller's dilemmas and conflicts become more and more complicated, and the hole he is digging for himself becomes deeper and deeper. Jarecki's plot is like a train wreck -- it gets faster and faster and faster and we can't help but hold our breath and see how the central character can out of it.

And due to his performance, Richard Gere, based on Jarecki's writing, helps develop an unlikable character that we actually root for. We actually want him to get out of his troubles, but at the same time wonder what has changed for him. Will he ever learn? The fact that no matter what happens, Robert Miller is paying a high price is in itself satisfactory to the audience. That's one thing I like about Jarecki's screenplay, that every character is flawed. There are no clear villains or "good guys." Every character has done something inscrutable, but we can all relate to the mistakes they make.

It's not the say the movie is perfect. There are plot elements that stretches our ability to suspend our disbelief. The amount of coincidences can be distracting, and we do question the morals of these characters, as they are all so larger than life.

Yet despite its flaws and distractions, I find the movie engrossing, and the characters relatable and sympathetic, even when they are not very likable. There are thrills and suspense, and quite a bit of depth as far as character development is concerned. I like it.

Stars: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Writer: Nicholas Jarecki
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA Rating:  R for language, brief violence, and drug use
Running Time: 100 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 8

Total - 7.8 out of 10.0 

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