It’s appropriate that Arbitrage gets its American release while our country is knee-deep in the fight over the fiscal cliff. While executive compensation isn’t really the primary focus of this particular battle, the power that the rich wield, from influence to tax rates, is. And Arbitrage is thick with moral hazard, double standards, and manipulation that favor the wealthiest of the wealthy. It tells the story of billionaire, silver fox Hedge Fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere), your stereotypical (some would say prototypical) finance kingpin who plays around with younger women and engages in fraudulent behavior to cover up big misjudgments while his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) runs his household and charities for the public eye. Currently, Miller’s object of side affection is the sexy young French artist Julie (Laetitia Casta), and when an explosive event forces him to cover up a tragedy—you see, Miller is in the midst of a complicated sale of his secretly-in-the-red firm, and can’t possibly risk being ensnared in public scandal—he turns to the reliable tools that the rich possess in spades: high-powered lawyers and those who owe him favors because of past financial assistance. Here, he turns to Nate Parker (Jimmy Grant), whose father worked for Miller’s firm for 20 years and who Miller has looked after from afar since Parker’s father passed away. Everybody else’s future? His family? Doing what’s right? Responsibility for one’s actions? It all takes a back seat to Miller’s bloated ego, his fear of seeing his house-of-cards empire fall in a flash.
Arbitrage simplifies some of these concepts, and it’s really a pretty by-the-numbers portrayal of all of this, but it does do a very solid job of depicting how the fat cats can make their own rules when their consciences permit it. Gere, who I usually find dull as dishwater (outside of Days of Heaven), is pretty good here; he looks the part and plays it convincingly. The rest of the cast is much the same, ranging from fine-to-solid but rarely standing out. Jarecki’s direction falls into the same boat, though the closing scene—a bit overly abrupt, but quite good—warrants mention, illustrating how the game goes on as the torch is passed, and how these titans of their trade are content to look the other way as long as the money, second homes, and yachts are flowing in. While certainly unspectacular, Arbitrage is a competent feature debut from the young Jarecki, and a movie that may hold a small level of importance in the years to come as the financial system and its regulation in the United States continues to evolve.