Richard Gere was offered the role of Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” and turned it down, a decision he “always regretted” as he said at a Tokyo press conference some years ago. Now he’s landed a role to vindicate that regret, in slow-burning thriller “Arbitrage,” which stars Gere as Wall Street hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller.
Miller is more vulnerable than Gekko, and as writer/director Nicholas Jarecki draws him, he’s not a whole lot smarter. But when you imagine Miller as one of the guys who took down the global economy in 2008, he immediately begins to shine with realism. The man is arrogant, unscrupulous and so out for his own skin that he’s become blind to everything and everyone.
Gere doesn’t do much to make Miller a likeable guy: He seems to relish portraying the successful financier as a despicable old lout. He has it all: a hedge-fund firm with a stellar reputation on the brink of a lucrative merger. His wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) is beautiful and nice, while his gorgeous daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) happens to be his business partner. Nothing mars the incredibly expensive veneer of Miller’s 1-percent lifestyle, except for a teensy snag concerning some books he’s cooked, and a bit of illegal fraud activity on the side. At his 60th birthday party, Miller fittingly announces it’s not about the money anymore, but his grandchildren. Yeah, right.
Any good thoughts go out the window when he sneaks out from the party to visit his mistress, Julie (Laetitia Casta). A lot of bad stuff happens after that and Miller finds himself up a very wide and deep (and brown) body of water without a life jacket, let alone a paddle. Miller turns to Jimmy (Nate Parker), whom he had once picked off the streets and helped. But that turns out to be extra fodder for NYPD detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), who comes around to bust Miller. Problem is, Bryer acts just a little too ingratiating around the family, and more enamored by the display of conspicuous wealth than a cop should be.
Through it all, Miller remains his hateful and increasingly abusive self. In a standout scene with daughter Brooke on a bench in Central Park, he lets loose a diatribe on how she’s not his partner but just someone who works for him, belittling her to the size of a pea. The man is plenty stressed but refuses to admit to his wrongdoings and seek help. Watching Miller, you’re reminded of the phrase “rat race” and the veracity of it just hits home.
You’d never guess this was Jarecki’s feature debut — the skill and insight demonstrated here suggest long years of experience. Though maybe he’s less versed in the ways of the business world. The very rich rarely get punished for making astounding piles of money, regardless of how they made it. At one point, Miller’s business associate warns him: “you’re looking at 1,000 years of jail time” but that turns out to be wishful thinking. At this point, shouldn’t Milller have the grace to volunteer in a soup kitchen or something?
But of course if that did happen we wouldn’t be in this mess now would we?
For a chance to win one of 10 “Arbitrage” promotional programs, visit jtimes.jp/film. The deadline is March 29.