"This character is a creature of our time."
That is what Richard Gere said about his character in the new film Arbitrage. Is it true, though? Lets look at the basis of the film. In Arbitrage, Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge fund manager trying to complete the sale of his company before his own personal life catches up with him. Miller is willing to lie, cheat, and steal in order to get what he wants.
With stories like those of Bernie Madoff still fresh in our minds, it does seem like Arbitrage could be based on real life events. Yet it's not and after watching the film you can't help but think about how unique and singular it is in tone and overall appeal. By all measures of what makes an individual moral, Miller is anything but. Yet, we root for him throughout the film. The script makes Miller out to be the bad guy of the film, yet we end up liking him in some capacity by the time the film fades to the ending credits. How often does that happen? For me, I can't recall rooting for anyone quite as manipulative as Robert Miller.
In modern cinema, I don't think that there is an actor as underrated as Richard Gere. Within his almost 40 year career, Gere has never garnered an Oscar nomination. This, despite having given memorable turns in An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, Primal Fear, and Chicago. Moving past those egregious snubs, Gere surely deserves a Best Actor nomination for his work here. Will he get it? Probably not, which makes it all the more frustrating for me. As I said before, Gere plays a character that, if played by any other actor, would be unlikable. Yet somehow Gere makes us like this guy. Even as he kills somebody within the first 20 minutes of the movie, we still find it within ourselves to see that he ends up out of trouble by the end of the movie.
Aside from Gere, Susan Sarandon also gives a stunning supporting performance. Sarandon plays Miller's wife with wonderful depth. At the beginning of the movie, we see Mrs. Miller as somebody who is oblivious to the things that Gere's character is doing. In some respects, we could consider her somewhat aloof. Yet, as the film progresses we see a completely different side of Sarandon's character. She is no longer taking the back seat, but instead she is fighting for the happiness of her family. If that means going against her husband than that is what it will take. It's an impassioned performances that ranks among Sarandon's best.
Tim Roth also manages to contribute one of his best performances in years as Michael Bryer, the main detective assigned to figuring out the case that Gere's character is entangled in. Bryer is at times wonderfully sarcastic and at other times an amoral individual. He is somebody that is going after Miller for all the right reasons, but he goes about in all the wrong ways. The film ultimately leaves us asking who is more moral? Miller or Bryer?
All of the great performances are driven by the first time direction and writing of Nicholas Jarecki. In his film, Jarecki creates such detailed characters and puts them in situations that question our own conscience. The entire film seems to be a meditation on morals and personal drive. In that sense, Arbitrage reminds me of Michael Clayton, one of my favorite films from the last decade. At the close of the film, we are left asking ourselves whether we would have done the same thing or not. On top of that, we wonder if there are societal rules and morals that we all should follow, or if our lives make us individual in that sense. It is an important topic worth debating and Arbitrage does just that.