While those do still exist, nowadays, a greater number seem to come from Wall Street, and the financial world.
That’s right: If you haven’t noticed (and how could you have missed it?) Hollywood’s favorite punching bag right now is the 1%. Whether the film is Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, The Dark Knight Rises, or countless other recent examples, we just love watching the affluent among us get what’s coming to them.
So it is in Arbitrage, the latest film to show the downfall of a rich, white guy who took advantage of people on his rise to the top.
Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, one of New York’s leading investors and richest men. Or at least that’s what he wants you to think. Really, his firm made a bad investment that caused it to lose $400 million, and he’s cooked the books to cover that up. Now Robert is hastily trying to sell the firm to another, before his fraud is revealed and he’s outed as the charlatan that he is.
But it gets worse: One night, while sleepily driving with his mistress, he kills the younger woman in a car accident. Of course, he does everything within his power to cover that up too.
Does this guy even have a conscience? Likely not. He’s too concerned with holding on to his wealth and image. To hell with anyone who may be caught in the middle, even if they’re members of his own family.
It’s a juicy, of-the-moment premise that writer/director Nicholas Jarecki (in his dramatic-film debut) makes the most of. This is a world that is so foreign to so many of us — a world where a $2 million donation to a hospital is considered just a quick and easy expense, and where not knowing what Applebee’s is gets a laugh. The film was clearly inspired by the Bernie Madoff case, and Jarecki effectively shows how ridiculous amounts of money and wealth are both seductive and inherently corrupt.
Robert is an unflappable charmer, but he’s growing increasingly desperate as things fall apart around him. Gere, who wears characters like this as comfortably as he wears his suits, does a bang-up job, letting Robert’s stoicism and quiet plotting speak volumes. This guy is not even close to being a sympathetic character, yet Gere complicates matters by making Robert just likeable enough so that the film muddies our own consciences too. It’s a beautifully measured performance, and one of Gere’s best.
We watch as his wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon), slowly reveals that she’s known about Robert’s duality for some time. While she’s gone along with it in an effort to benefit her own lifestyle and pet causes, that doesn’t mean she’s liked it.
Turns out Robert’s judge, jury, and executioner may all be right under his nose: So get ready for the scene where Ellen finally lets her husband have it for the lifetime of cheating and lying she’s endured. It’s an impressive takedown that the film builds to, and Sarandon, one of this year’s most ubiquitous actresses (Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Robot & Frank), makes it all pay off. Take that, you bastard!
Arbitrage is a taut financial thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. That the ending is abrupt and leaves some plot developments to the imagination doesn’t take away from the pleasure that comes before. It only makes you want to see more.
I’m giving Arbitrage a strong B+.