Arbitrage - Cinema Review

'another thrilling example of just how rich a period this is proving for film-makers willing and able to explore the back-stories  personalities and subtexts behind widespread financial disaster'

Yet another film in the growing sub-genre of productions that tackle, or are informed by, the current dour economic situation, Arbitrage proves to also be another thrilling example of just how rich a period this is proving for film-makers willing and able to explore the back-stories, personalities and subtexts behind widespread financial disaster.

The first feature from Nicholas Jarecki, brother of Andrew (Capturing The Friedmans) and Eugene (The House I Live In), the approach taken here is one which attempts to individualise the supposed 'villains' of the financial market's ills. Where Margin Call portrayed a wide house of cards, overseen by a range of people, eventually all working to ensure the house falls down well away from them, in Arbitrage there is just one man managing the pile. Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a hedge fund mogul, desperately trying to shift a company-wide book of toxic trades and assets from his ledgers before the costs catch up with him.

Inevitably, for a man so willing to morally bend in business, Miller's problems extend into his personal life. A serious problem relating to Julie (Laetitia Casta) who he is having an affair with, threatens to compromise both his business deal and his freedom, whilst daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) gets close to the truth and Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) catches up with several of the more criminal facts.

In what occasionally can be a complex tale, Jarecki excels at simplifying it for us: Miller's lone concern is the sale of his business, nothing else matters. With that mindset, themes of the economic crisis clearly begin to show through. Family is forgotten, morals are left behind, the little guys (Roth and Nate Parker, as Miller's charge Jimmy) are trodden upon, ignored or compromised in pursuit of the end goal. This isn't as in-depth as Margin Call - there's never any granular level fiscal analysis, or even many discussions surrounding it - but the points are still made clearly, albeit in a more individual way.

Jarecki even appears to try to muddy the already compromised moral waters. Desperate to catch Miller, Bryer's tactics begin to become suspect. Annoyed at the fact that he is using him, Jimmy considers walking but is swayed back by the promise of money and financial gain. Supposed 'victim' Ellen (Susan Sarandon), Miller's wife, appears to ultimately have an agenda of her own. Jarecki seems to be suggesting something quite daring; if the atmosphere is toxic then even the lambs within it are going to be poisoned. Maybe all of the bad things do not just flow from Miller.

The fact that this is at all a believable suggestion to make is made possible by just how human and sympathetic Gere makes the lead, who otherwise could be a ruthless villain. Somewhere amongst all of the bad he perpetrates - and he gets very bad - Miller remains understandable as a man trapped in a cycle of problems, the only escape from which appears to him to be deceit. Opposite him, Marling is a touch miss-cast, whilst Roth, Parker, Sarandon and assorted others provide classy supporting turns.

The finale may frustrate some, both in what eventually befalls Miller and in how many answers are provided elsewhere. This is a film though that promises not answers but musings on the climate and the morals surrounding it. In that regard it is thrilling, well managed and near-faultless.


  1. 5 stars? wow. Might have to keep an eye open for this when the DVD rolls around.

    1. Enjoyed it more and more the further away I got from it. Really impressive, I thought.