Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon & Timothy Roth • Directed by Jarecki • R, 107 min.
He’s been an American Gigolo, an Officer and a Gentleman, and a Pretty Woman’s prince charming. And now Richard Gere has found another memorable, meaty role---just not in a movie with a title anywhere near as catchy.
In “Arbitrage,” he plays a high-flying New York billionaire investor, Robert Miller, whose world is rocked by a collision of circumstances that threaten to topple his empire and destroy his life.
But don’t go feeling too sorry for the guy. Miller’s no saint. He’s a philandering husband, kissing his high-society wife (a lovely Susan Sarandon) goodbye and making excuses to sneak across town for torrid sexy-time lovemaking with young-thing French mistress.
He’s a corrupt businessman, propping up his failing company with a $400 million off-the-books loan to make it look more attractive for a potential buyer. And he’s a liar, telling his chief investment officer, his daughter Brooke (a feisty Brit Miller), whatever it takes to keep her in the dark.
The heat gets turned up when Miller’s fraudulent shell game is almost exposed. But things really start to boil after a fiery middle-of-the-night automobile crash on a remote country road, one that makes a street-smart NYPD detective (a terrific Tim Roth) smell a rat---a two-legged one who scurried away from the scene of an accident for which he might have been responsible, one in which another person was killed.
After several years of movie misfires, critical flops and films for which audiences just kind of went ho-hum, it’s good to have Gere back in a role that lets him dig deep, one in which viewers will eagerly follow him down every twisted strand of the increasingly tangled web he weaves.
That such an unsavory character can hold our attention, and even warrant some degree of our sympathy, is a testament to the power of Gere’s performance, which is top-notch, even Oscar-caliber. Don’t be surprised to find his name among the contenders for a Best Actor Academy Award next year. He’s that good.
And so is the story. First-time director and writer Nicholas Jarecki creates a riveting tale of a capitalistic impropriety that doesn’t seem terribly out of sync with contemporary headlines about corporate greed and Wall Street weasel-ry, crossed with a thrilling criminal procedural that turns its screws tighter with each scene.
But don’t try to second-guess it. And be prepared to scratch your head a couple of times. It’s not always an easy movie to follow, and it doesn’t exactly leave you warm and fuzzy. When it’s over, you feel the same chill as its characters, pondering the cold, thin line that slices like a razor between striking it rich and losing it all.
The title is a financial term that means the simultaneous purchase and sale of an asset in order to exploit the difference in its price. The concept, however, is unwieldy and not really essential to the plot; buy low, sell high, blah, blah, blah, whatever.
The exhilarating, electrifying jolt of this movie, clearly, doesn’t come from what it’s called. It’s in the bite of its story, and the most welcome comeback role it provides for an actor who proves once again how much he can command the screen when a project and a part combine to light his fire.