Arbitrage sees Hollywood sideliner Richard Gere back in full-on bastard mode as corrupt business mogul Robert Miller. A self-made nine-figure millionaire, he is adored by the press for all his do-gooding charity work and doted on by his prosperous family at home. But karma comes wheeling around the corner and he is caught in a car crash during a tryst with his French mistress. Leaving her dead body at the roadside, the fatal incident ignites a downward spiral into more lies, police questioning and the brink of his empire on collapse.
Like J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call, or Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, Arbitrage is fuelled on the callous financial sector. The standardised “greed is good” adage can once again applied here, but – unlike those films – filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki doesn’t have a tactful grasp on the fiscal terminology that permeates his script. Therefore the film often feels like it’s treading water, unsure of where the thrills should come from next, and what’s really at stake if Robert doesn’t get himself out of the mess he’s made.
It’s difficult to feel anything other than contempt for our anti-hero; not because he does bad things, but because he’s a tedious character from the outset. Considering Miller is at the centre of almost every scene, this very rapidly becomes a major problem. Despite his good looks, leonine hair and debonair swagger, Gere brings none of his natural magnetism to the role. If anything, he’s grossly miscast; unable to deliver the menace and nefarious demeanour the role requires, a la Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko.
Elsewhere, Tim Roth brings some much needed spice to the film as the bent cop breathing down Miller’s neck, whilst Brit Marling’s role as Robert’s concerned, mini-me daughter proves that she has the talent to be a Jessica Chastain-in the making. These two aspects unfortunately can’t save Arbitrage from having an unremarkable TV-movie quality. With languid cinematography, and some domineering music from Cliff Martinez, it’s a token “beige thriller”: boring, stodgy, and utterly forgettable.