Robert Miller (Gere) feels himself to be very much the center of the universe. He is fabulously wealthy, he is considered a financial “oracle,” he is a philanthropist and he has a lovely family including wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), who works with him at his very large, very successful company. He also has a mistress — the artist, Julie (Laetitia Casta) — and a problem with his books. It seems that he gambled on a copper mine and lost and is now trying to hide a $400 million hole from a prospective buyer of his firm. If he can close the deal before they find out, he can probably avoid prison.
Of course, there is more than one way to wind up in prison, and suddenly Robert finds himself facing not just possible fraud charges but trouble that is even more serious. As his troubles get worse, we see him play a shell game not just with money but with his freedom and his family’s well-being.
The fun of this movie — and it is a kind of bleak fun as this is a rather bleak, yet engrossing, movie — is watching things get worse for Robert Miller. We do not — or at least I did not — feel sorry for him; his problems are entirely of his own making. As he slips further into a hole, he claws ever more desperately to keep from falling. He is focused completely on saving himself and is essentially unconcerned about who else he hurts, even when that starts to include the family he claims to love so much.
Gere is pretty good at this kind of role. On the continuum of late-middle-aged-dude likeability, with Tom Hanks way on one side and, say, Michael Douglas way on the other, Gere mingles somewhere just on the Douglas side of the middle. He can be a smug jerk, wear it convincingly, but there is still something human in him, unlike the mostly reptilian characters played by Douglas. I found myself not so much rooting for him but interested in what he’s going to do next.
Everyone else is so much a supporting character that I can only really think of a handful of scenes where Robert isn’t where the camera is focused. Tim Roth makes an appearance as a police detective and Nate Parker shows up to play, essentially, that character in Law & Order who Lenny Briscoe was always able to convince to “help yourself out here.” It is, in many ways, a tight movie — not expansive, not particularly weighty, but a smart little drama bolstered by a strong performance by Gere. B-
Rated R for language, brief violent images and drug use. Directed by Nicholas Jarecki, who also wrote the screenplay, Arbitrage is an hour and 40 minutes and is distributed by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate and is available via video on demand and on iTunes.