The Global Financial Crisis looms over Nicholas Jarecki’s extremely confident debut feature (as director and writer), but Arbitrage is not about the crisis; rather, it’s a much more intimate financial thriller than, say, Margin Call. Richard Gere, always at his best when given an expensive suit, high status and a major crisis, is in his element here as Robert Miller, a billionaire Manhattan hedge-fund CEO whose world spins out of control in multiple directions over the course of a few days. The stakes are high: besides possibly going to jail, he risks losing his fortune, the love of his daughter (and CIO) Brooke (relative newcomer Brit Marling, excellent) and his long-standing marriage to Ellen (Susan Sarandon, who seems to have stopped aging at 50).
The intricate, richly detailed screenplay is full of surprises, smart dialogue and intriguing minor characters, and manages to be smart and adult while still making all the financial stuff comprehensible. Manhattan is shot stunningly by Yorick Le Saux, making the most of an independent budget with actual locations such as The Four Seasons, The Plaza and the GM Building, making the whole thing look as cashed-up as its protagonist. There’s excellent support work from Chris Eigeman (where’s he been hiding for the last decade?), Stuart Margolin and newcomer Nate Parker, as well as surprising turns from William Friedkin (yes, that William Friedkin) and Vanity Fair Editor-In-Chief Graydon Carter, bringing the upper-crust New York vibe as authentically as anyone can. The one bummer in the mix is Tim Roth as a dogged NYC detective; Jareki, a self-confessed massive fan of Roth’s, allows him to shuffle, hunch and otherwise deliver a completely mannered performance that seems to be based on Peter Falk’s Columbo. Luckily it doesn’t derail this highly intelligent film. It has one of my favourite lines of the year: Gere, at his own 60th Birthday, has retired to another room with Marling, to do what rich families do: sign papers. He mentions that he might want to pull way back on his work. She looks at him and says, in total honesty and devoid of all irony, “Then what would we talk about?” Recommended.