Summer is over, and with it, thankfully, the summer block-busters (there are the occasionally good ones, lest people assume that I am a snob). With autumn here the best films of the year will finally be available to those of us who do not have access to Sundance, Venice, Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, and other film festivals at which all of the award season's contenders are released. And we will have the pleasure of films like Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Steve Soderbergh's Magic Mike, David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis and many more.
For today we can be content, however, with Arbitrage a film by Nicholas Jarecki about a New York billionaire, Robert Miller (played by the suave and silver haired Richard Gere), who finds himself in a very tight spot, on the brink of ruin, due to the unfortunate coincidence of several disastrous, unforeseen events.
Miller, one of the most highly regarded hedge fund managers is on the verge of selling his company. He returns to his lovely Gramercy Park home from a high profile interview to be greeted by his picture perfect family who has organised his 60th birthday. Around the table are his wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon), his son Peter (Austin Lysy), his daughter and heir apparent the brilliant Brooke (Brit Marling) and their assorted partners and children.
Moved, Miller makes an impromptu speech saying how his family is his biggest accomplishment, and that soon, after the merger is complete, he will finally be able to relax.
Things seem perfect. That is, until we see Robert exiting his home, telling his wife he has to work out a few details for the merger. And as with everything that does seem too good to be true, Robert Miller walks into the swanky SoHo loft of his mistress, Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta), a French art dealer that he has set up in New York, and who is not afraid to demand his attentions, alternately sulking and pouting, or crying copious tears at the knowledge that he will never leave his wife.
As the plot thickens, we slowly begin to understand that Robert has had to cook his company's books, hiding losses of over $400 million in order to sell it to another high profile company. His daughter Brooke, a financial wizard, has started to catch on, but even she has not begun to fathom that it might be her very own beloved father who is behind the tremendous fraud.
Racing against time, Robert bribes accountants to ensure that the deception is never revealed, all the while maintaining his perfect veneer of success and extraordinary philanthropy – holding the strings as tightly as possible so things do not spin out of control.
And so they do, but I will not give away essential plot lines here, except to say it involves his mistress Julie, the New York homicide department, and a young black man from Harlem.
The pleasure of Arbitrage which, by the way means the simultaneous buying of something in order to take advantage of price differences, lies in its taut performances, its excellent, sophisticated, atmospheric cinematography and the slow revelation of the extraordinary amorality of an initially likeable character.
David Denby, a long time film critic from The New Yorker mentioned recently that there are no longer films made for grown-ups. He is correct, but happily this film is surely one of those rare exceptions. Caught between horror and pity, Arbitrage is a thriller, which captivates with baited breath. I don't think you will be disappointed.