December 21, 2012
I have never heard of this film before the nominations for the Golden Globes were announced last week. "Arbitrage" received one notable nomination and that is for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama for Richard Gere. I felt that this was good enough of a reason to watch this film because this was a rare occasion that veteran Richard Gere was recognized for dramatic acting. (Turns out his first major acting nomination for Drama was also from the Golden Globes back in 1983 for "An Officer and a Gentleman." He won the Globe for Comedy/Musical for "Chicago" in 2003.)
"Arbitrage" had an unusual word for its title. Looking it up, it is economics jargon for the "practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices." (Wikipedia). Accordingly, the film is set in the business world, where the protagonist strikes deals on both sides in order to preserve a balanced facade despite mounting financial and personal problems.
The film "Arbitrage" is about multi-billionaire business man Robert Miller (Richard Gere). When he turned 60, he surprised his family by selling his successful company off. But behind all the smiles we see in the opening birthday celebration scene, Miller was and will be embroiled in much deeper financial, and later personal, difficulties that push him to the limits of his business and legal wits.
Richard Gere really does a career best performance out of this role. For playing someone so unscrupulous and duplicitous, he can still get the audience to be on his side. The acting here is very subtle. There is no big breakdown scene or big booming speech to declare that this is "great" acting.
Props also have to go to the supporting cast who also turn in superb performances. Susan Sarandon, I am not really a fan, but she did well here as Miller's socialite wife Ellen. Brit Marling played Miller's daughter Brooke who was the company's financial officer oblivious of her father's financial double-dealing. Her confrontation scene in the park was a highlight for her and Gere. Nate Parker played Jimmy Grant, a simple black guy from Harlem whose family was beholden to Miller, who was cluelessly dragged by Miller into the whole sticky mess. The chameleon-like actor Tim Roth plays Bryer, the detective who desperately wants to pin Miller down.
Many aspects you may have seen in many other family and financial dramas before. Some aspects like the matter with the detective and his evidence may have been too convenient and contrived. But overall, this one was put together quite well. The running time of 107 minutes may be too long for some people, but I feel that this was necessary to cover all the details of the complicated story line. I believe this movie is worth its time just to see whether the elegant Mr. Robert Miller gets out of the web he has spun himself into or not, with Richard Gere giving us his finest work as an actor doing so.