Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: "Arbitrage"

Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Runtime: 107 minutes

I have no doubt in my mind that Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage is a solid movie. It is solidly acted, solidly made, and gets better as it goes along and the stakes increase. All that it's really missing is something special, whether in the form of a stirring performance or a unique score. Arbitrage is the epitome of the type of film that satisfies the desire for engaging, adult-minded entertainment, yet leaves your mind barely after you exit the theater. 

Playing off of the 1% vs. 99% concept that has thoroughly engulfed the nation in recent years, Jarecki's film centers on Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a hedge fund king trying to sell his company. When Miller's longstanding affair with a French art dealer ends in tragedy, he struggles to cover up his involvement, and keep his empire afloat long enough to close the sale. 

Jarecki weaves an interesting tale of financial and moral deception and has a knack for communicating information without deluging the audience. He also has material solid enough for Gere, Susan Sarandon (as Robert's wife), and Brit Marling (Robert's daughter Brooke, a rising business star) to turn in effective performances. The women are perhaps more impressive because their roles initially seem thankless, yet both have moments to deliver on the emotional front. Ultimately this is Robert's story through and through, and Gere makes for a dynamic, albeit never truly compelling, lead, to the point where you almost want him to get away with everything. 

But step back from Arbitrage, and the utter vanilla-ness of the whole enterprise only becomes more clear. Jarecki has fashioned an interesting tale, but without diverse enough characters and personalities to push the material to the next level. For that reason alone, the film's MVP is actually Nate Parker as a Harlem-based twenty something caught up in Miller's escapades and thrown under the bus. He's the one element in the whole film whose involvement feels unexpected, and his character's relationship with Miller informs the film's best scenes. But one interesting piece isn't enough. That's not to rain on the film's parade as an assured debut. Jarecki deserves that much credit. It's just not a debut that excites with its promise. It merely assures us that Jarecki can deliver thoughtful competence. 

Grade: B-/C+

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