Nicholas Jarecki directs Richard Gere in Arbitrage, a competent political thriller about how wealth and power often change people for the worse, regardless of who or what damage and pain this course of action inflicts on those close to them. It’s an intriguing, timely story, yet somehow lacks the necessary bite and emotional core to engage its audience and mask the many inconsistencies contained within Jarecki’s script.
Robert Miller (Gere) appears to be in a perfect position. He’s a billionaire, owns a successful business, has a loving family and somehow manages to keep a long-lasting affair under wraps. However, when he’s involved in a devastating car accident that claims the life of someone dear to him and Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) is assigned to bring him down, his formerly comfortable life starts to spiral out of control, exposing those secrets he’d spend so much time and effort concealing.
Arbitrage works best as a political piece when examining the current state of the economy and how drives successful business to dishonest, often illegal means to maintain their power and wealth. Jarecki script supports the smart nature with clever observations and the odd smattering of slang, though the dialogue is mostly prosaic, with the actors increasing the ferocity with which it’s uttered to make it seem like more is being said.
It’s a narrative that’s laden with issues though, not least in how difficult it is for audiences to make an emotional connection with Robert. His home life and the inner working of his brain are left unexplored, meaning the film is – for long stretches, at least – impersonal, kept ticking over only due to Gere’s robust, rational performance as a man driven not out of love, but by how much money and power he possesses.
The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for the supporting cast. Their absence helps to keep the attention centred upon Robert and his downfall, yet the film becomes vastly more interesting as the narrative its final act and Robert’s threat hits home. This, in addition to the strong turn from Brit Marling as Robert’s observant daughter and a particularly biting one liner delivered by Robert’s wife (played by Susan Sarandon), provides Arbitrage with weight and the audience a reason to stick it out until the end.