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Movie Review: 'Arbitrage'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —  Could this be the year that Oscar finally nods at Richard Gere?

Perhaps at least a nomination is in order, because what he brings to the table this time is a lot more than his natural and well-established charisma –- although that doesn't exactly hurt his performance.

No, his lead turn as an investment tycoon -– an amalgam of charm, deceit, greed, hubris, and reprehensibility -– is as conniving, commanding, compelling, and convincing as anything he's ever done in an acting career that has showcased him in over 40 films.

(3 stars out of 4)

In Arbitrage, a tense, timely, high-finance drama from debuting feature-film director Nicholas Jarecki (whose brothers, Andrew and Eugene, are documentarians, and whose father was a commodities trader), Gere plays 60-year-old hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller, a Wall Street billionaire trying to sell off his trading empire to a major bank before his illegal, behind-closed-doors maneuvering (covering up a catastrophic loss) is revealed, thus wiping out his vast fortune.

And that's only one of the secrets of various sorts that he's keeping from his still-waters-run-deep wife, played by Susan Sarandon, and his heir-apparent financier daughter, played by Brit Marling.

His dilemma gets even thornier, to say the least, when a tragic automobile accident he's involved in brings a wrong-place-wrong-time family friend (Nate Parker) into the fray and an unrelenting police detective (Tim Roth) onto Miller's trail.

The nuanced ambiguity and resonant beauty of Gere's work here is that, as the screw tightens, he has us rooting for and against him at the same time.

Of course we disapprove of and tsk-tsk the fraudulent Madoffian activities he's been participating in for years.  But we also recognize some of the writ-large compromises he has made and makes.  And thus we wonder if we might not have behaved similarly under similar circumstances.

Gere explores the moral compass, finds the common humanity, and nails it, making us feel vaguely complicit as he wriggles his way out of one imbroglio after another.  In other words, the concept of "rooting interest" and what we usually mean by it gets an intriguing tweak this time out.

Gere's Robert Miller may not have as suggestive or memorable a name as Michael Douglas' Gordon Gecko in Wall Street, but this ruthless tycoon would give him a run for his money.  Literally.

Jarecki's screenplay was inspired by the 2010 Vanity Fair series of articles, "The Great Hangover: 21 Tales of the New Recession."  And in the tradition of the simultaneous buying and selling of assets indicated by the film's title, we end up buying what the resulting film, with its lead actor as its chief asset, is selling.

This is a finance drama and a family drama (the film's standout scene is a bristling father-daughter conversation in Central Park) focusing on a severely antiheroic protagonist who is committing family and financial betrayal and flirting with financial and moral bankruptcy.  To get more than the expected knee-jerk response from us, given the financial climate and the perception of Wall Street of late, is an accomplishment, by the film's star and by the film itself.

So we'll invest in 3 stars out of 4 for Arbitrage, a taut corporate suspense thriller that wheels and deals in high Gere.
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