Richard Gere Symbolizes U.S. Morality in ‘Arbitrage’

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CHICAGO – The concept of crime and punishment is a goalpost that is constantly being moved. Justice becomes an discretionary circumstance, sold to the highest bidder. These are just a view of the happy themes in the new film “Arbitrage,” featuring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling.

Most likely filmgoers will have to run to the dictionary to get the meaning of the title, but the definition becomes self-evident in the movie – “the buying and selling of commodities in different markets to take advantage of differing prices for the same asset.” Sound somewhat familiar? It’s the very descriptive that was partially responsible for the economic collapse of 2007-08, but in this film it’s played out through a tale of deception and justice bought-and-sold. This highly symbolic morality tale is filtered through the arbitrage trader portrayed by Richard Gere, who balances his fortunes on the edge of a knife, which pretty much echoes today’s financial markets and negotiations.

Robert (Richard Gere) seemingly has it all. He is a wealthy commodities broker with a successful firm and a loving family. His wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) takes care of the family foundation, which is about to build an important hospital wing. His daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) is one of his finest lieutenants in the firm, a genius in high level accounting. Robert needs all hands on deck, for he is about to sell the firm, pending an outside audit.

Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon
Complicated Relationship for Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and Robert (Richard Gere) in ‘Arbitrage’
Photo credit: Myles Aronowitz for Roadside Attractions

What everyone does not know is that Robert is leveraged out. He has taken on a high risk loan to cover some bad investments made by the firm, in hopes to cover up what would be a deal breaker. At the same time, he is conducting an affair with a French artist, and her untimely death creates another cover-up opportunity. Deception and betrayal become an everyday occurrence for Robert, as his life and power are slowly leaking away. There are solutions, and it is because the wealthy are different than you and I.

Show this film in a double feature with last year’s “Margin Call,” and the structure of the law of the “jungle” in the United States is exposed fairly succinctly. The manipulation of money, and its uses for power and forgiveness of sins, is in accordance with the “survival of the fittest.” Economic Darwinism is now part of real evolution, and “Arbitrage” creates that transformation with each manipulation and deal that Robert constructs.

The cast is top drawer, with a mixture of old pros and new faces. Gere and Sarandon are both perfect for their roles, the handsome success of the business tycoon and the cool beauty of his companion partner. Brit Marling (“Another Earth”) breaks out in a mainstream role, and handles the breakdown of family trust with some appropriate performance decisions. It is telling about our times that it is a different kind of matriarch in Marling’s character that wants to maintain integrity. But in the end, she is just as sheltered behind her father’s fortune as the rest of the dependents. Hail to the job creators.

On the other side of the Robert’s coin, the brief role of the French artist – who is his lover – was precisely played by Laetitia Casta. She was ice cold to his indifference, yet couldn’t help diverting to his charms. This was the twist in the usual rich-man-something-on-the-side type of character, and she was memorable. Nate Parker portrays another background role, that of a patsy named Jimmy in the Robert universe. He was so honestly written, almost noble, and again it was an interesting interpretation to persona type that has been seen before.

Brit Marling, Richard Gere
Brooke (Brit Marling) Gets Bad News from Her Father in ‘Arbitrage’
Photo credit: Myles Aronowitz for Roadside Attractions

This feature film debut was written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, and it reflects positively for future endeavors. It was impressive how the director was able to create the two sides of Robert’s coin, those of his main family (business, daughter, wife) and his shadow world (driver, lover, cover-up). Everything would have been perfect if it wasn’t for the imperfect morality, driven by wealth. And Jarecki does communicate that even as Robert creates his morality, it can create the elusive perfection.

Yep, the wealthy are different from you and I, and all is well with them as long as the 99% leave them alone, with our petty laws and regulations. We should just be happy with the occasional cake, when they let us eat it.

“Arbitrage” opens in theaters and Video-On-Demand September 14th. See local listings for theaters, channels and show times. Featuring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth, Nate Parker and Laetitia Casta. Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

Manny be down's picture


This was one fo Richard Gere better movie I like it alot it was very well made

ziggy one of the best's picture


What a gr8 flick to think he lost the two most important woman in his life his girl friend and his daughter

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