There are plenty of characters worth caring about in the new drama “Arbitrage,” but its central protagonist, Robert Miller (Richard Gere), certainly isn’t one of them. Robert is a 60-year-old going on 30, a corrupt hedge-fund magnate with an enviable home, a lovely family and the requisite mistress. He cooks his books like Emeril cooks steaks, carrying himself with smug smiles of entitlement and endless reserves of false contrition, constantly apologizing to everyone around him – his patient wife (Susan Sarandon), his exotic artist lover (Laetitia Casta), his brilliant and elegant daughter (Brit Marling) and the young black man he’ll soon exploit for much of the movie (Nate Parker). But if you expect him to genuinely change his ways, to grow from craven snake to upstanding father, husband and businessman, then you don’t know sociopaths.
“Arbitrage” is the latest example of a One Percenters’ chickens coming home to roost, his avaricious downfall savored by moviegoers – the 99 percent – with a wide-eyed schadenfreude. It isn’t nearly as visionary as David Cronenberg’s chatty satire “Cosmopolis,” which charted a bankster’s demise using the sort of epic grandeur reserved for Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell. Andrew Jarecki, a quality writer directing for the first time on “Arbitrage,” never achieves a distinct visual style, but he proves to be a terrific actors’ director. He culls a remarkably nuanced, frayed-nerve performance from Gere while directing his nemesis – Tim Roth’s police detective Michael Bryer – with insouciant nonchalance, a rumpled cop slouching from suspect to suspect.
The crime is Robert’s, of course – a horrific accident that leaves his billionaire body virtually unscathed, and for which he spends the rest of the picture frantically avoiding, while at the same time attempting to merge his festering business with another bank and dealing with some awfully suspicious numbers in his ledger. His life becomes a Jenga tower, teetering further toward collapse with the removal of each ethical brick.
And yet this is a film perfectly suited for our cynical times, where fraudsters receive government bailouts instead of prison sentences, and rotten capitalists stay successfully rotten, despite the apparent crumbling of their empires. Wisely avoiding didactic lectures or false happy endings, “Arbitrage” is a reminder that sometimes – often, even – cheaters do prosper, especially when they surround themselves with other cheaters.
“Arbitrage” opens today at Living Room Theaters at FAU, Movies of Delray, Delray Square, Movies @ Lake Worth, The Classic Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, the Coral Gables Art Cinema and AMC Aventura 24.