Arbitrage: the simultaneous buying and selling of the same thing with the intention of making a profit.
It is not easy to greatly admire and respect someone while also hating their guts and wishing reindeer would chew their innards for an appetizer and subsequently crap it out for it to be then picked apart by a swarm of flies, the gross ones that have that a shiny green belly. Such honored people include Guy LaFluer, Jim Rice, Tom Brady, and Donald Trump. The others are obvious to any sports fans living in the New York area, but why Trump? Nobody is better at raking in millions of dollars while leaving a path of bodies in his wake. If you haven’t seen The Apprentice, then you likely don’t understand both the brilliance and sleaziness of the concept.
In Arbitrage, Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, someone who characterizes Trump almost better than Trump himself, someone willing to sell everything possible if it means there’s a potential profit down the road. His wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon), his daughter Brooke (Britt Marling), his mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta), his partners, his company, his friends, and even himself are all for sale – provided there’s a payoff that at least comes close to balancing the check he has to sign to get what he wants. In the first few minutes we get a perfect glimpse of just how much Miller knows about and cares for his own family. When he tells his daughter Brooke that they should take some time off work and spend a day together, she has no clue what they might possibly do.
Miller is excellent at three things: 1. Telling people what they want to hear, 2. Doing what he wants regardless of what he’s told you, and 3. Peeling off a few bills to cover up any hard feelings or rough edges. Unfortunately, when his mistress Julie, an up and coming artist, is killed in a car wreck because Miller fell asleep at the wheel, it requires more than just a few bucks to make things go away. When he takes steps to clean up the “mess” and destroy the evidence, it’s clear that it isn’t the first time. Unfortunately, not every decision is in his control, and money doesn’t motivate everyone as well as it motivates him. Even more unfortunate is that Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) is willing to do anything to get Miller. Does he know without a doubt that Miller is guilty? Oh yes. Will he let the law hold him back from proving it? Not a chance.
At the same time, Miller is trying to broker a deal to sell a subsidiary for far more than it’s worth, and the only way he can prove what it is “worth” is to borrow over $400 million to fake a profit. It doesn’t help that Brooke, both his daughter and business partner, finds evidence of his shady bookkeeping. Nor does it help when his wife is pestered enough by the police that she can’t continue to look the other way. And it’s gasoline on a fire when his half a million dollar acquisition, something he needs just to have a desk to park his name, starts to unravel before his eyes.
Miller has holes in his story and must dig a new one to fill in the old one. Eventually, he’s either going to run out of dirt or wear out his shovel, but he’s going to die trying. Arbitrage could have had at least five different endings that all would have been excellent in their own way. I can’t say the ending chosen was the best one possible, but it was still as realistic and dramatic as any of them. The film doesn’t hide the fact that Miller is guilty. That’s certain. The only thing that’s not certain is who knows, who can prove it, and who is willing to help him get away with it, both legally and emotionally. Both are clearly decided – but not until the very last frame.
This is an extremely impressive first feature film, both written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. Only in his mid-20’s, Jarecki has – fortunately and unfortunately – set a very high bar for whatever he might next bring to the big screen.