Film review: Arbitrage

THE current winds are stiff with the economic fallout of 2008, so films about the fall of Wall Street kings have struggled to find a sympathetic paying ­audience.

Arbitrage (15)

Director: Nicholas Jarecki

Running time: 107 minutes

* * * *

You might as well try to make a movie about homeless sharks or under-­watered triffids; which is why we still need Richard Gere to star in our movies.

Gere cuts an ambivalent figure at the best of times. He became a sex symbol in American Gigolo, despite charging women for sex to support an expensive antique vase habit. He hasn’t won an Oscar, or even made that many terrific films, but still he’s endured for four decades. And every ­woman I know makes “grrrr” noises when you say his name, although his middle name is Tiffany. This makes him perfect for the tug-of-war character of Robert Miller in Arbitrage. Miller is a liar, a fraud, a philanderer and worse – and yet, you find yourself rooting for his survival.

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At the start of the movie, Gere seems nothing more than a slick Wall Street operator, dispensing financial wisdom to an approving TV interviewer, scooting around in his private jet, then returning home to blow out his candles and quote Mark Twain at his 60th birthday party. Then he smoothly takes leave of his wife (Susan Sarandon) to cheer up his sulky, high-maintenance mistress (Laetitia Casta).

However, as well as juggling a complicated domestic set-up, Miller has been cooking the books to sell on his company to another business lizard (played by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter). The trouble is his ­fellow reptile keeps delaying signing the contracts, and Miller’s daughter (Brit Marling) is asking awkward questions about the family business.

The walls of Miller’s compartmentalised life then threaten to collapse completely when he is involved in a ­fatal car accident and flees the scene. His cover-ups become increasingly elaborate, but now a persistent detective (Tim Roth) is poking around Miller’s life, and trying to shake up an accomplice (Nate Parker).

This is Nicholas Jarecki’s first film as writer-director, and it’s not bad at all. Perhaps it’s also a world that Jarecki didn’t have to research much – his father is the philanthropist Henry Jarecki, while his stepbrothers Andrew (Capturing The Friedmans) and Eugene (Why We Fight) are documentary filmmakers – but there are some decent plot twists, and an enjoyable pulpy energy to Miller’s tale.

Don’t expect to pick up much about bull markets or hedge funds here; I’m not sure I understand what Arbitrage is, apart from a terrible title for a film. It is less interested in number-crunching the economic meltdown, and more interested in the psychology that produces Miller’s weasel deals and predatory trading.

This may be the role that Gere has been suited for since he first threw on the Armani for American Gigolo. In the past, his inscrutable style has been frustrating, but it’s a good fit for a wheeler-dealer trying to stay three moves ahead of everyone. Besides, no-one comes across as a hero here: even the police compromise their ethical codes. Miller has no morals but he does have magnetism, and Jarecki’s point is that sometimes all the unscrupulous need is a bit of charm to swing the odds in their favour. Although Bernie Madoff could also have used some of Gere’s hair.

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On general release from Friday

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot