Movie review: Arbitrage

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From the September 13, 2012 edition

“Arbitrage” can be described as thriller built around the power and corruption of Wall Street, but that wouldn’t encapsulate the more intriguing aspects of the film. On the surface, “Arbitrage” is about hedge fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) doing whatever it takes to finalize the sale of his company, despite the consequences and the people hurt. Digging a little deeper, you’ll find an interesting mediation on how easily corruption is embraced.

Robert, the “oracle” of Wall Street, has dirty accounting that he’s hiding from his employee who is also his daughter (Brit Marling), and he has a mistress he’s hiding from his wife (Susan Sarandon). When Richard has an accident with his mistress and draws the pursuit of Det. Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), his empire is on the verge of devastation.

“Arbitrage” successfully presents the requisite cat-and-mouse game between Robert and his lies, and Gere is downright captivating. He’s coolly confident outside, but he’s coming undone inside as the multiple schemes he’s running begin to unravel.

Where the film really succeeds is in making Robert and other characters people you recognize — often within yourself. People have a way of justifying their actions, both buying and selling their own lies, and writer-director Nicholas Jarecki puts that front and center. The subtext and symbolism isn’t always deft, but the way the film weighs moral sacrifice versus personal success is thought-provoking.