Wall Street greed good for Gere
Film of the Week: Arbitage (15A, general release, 107 minutes) Director: Nicholas Jarecki Stars: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta
A number of films have attempted to tackle the 2008 banking crash in recent years, from JC Chandor's dense and brainy Margin Call, to John Wells's solid and emotional Company Men.
Arbitrage opts for a more conventional approach than either of those movies, and uses hedge fund shenanigans as the basis for a safe but very enjoyable thriller.
Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki is the son of a wealthy philanthropist, and so knows a thing or two about the lifestyles of the absurdly rich: he uses his knowledge to construct a very believable scenario involving a smooth-talking billionaire who may have been inspired by the life and works of Bernie Madoff.
Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a latter-day Doge, a groomed and preened 60-year-old Manhattan hedge fund manager who oozes wealth and takes extreme privilege for granted. He's whisked around the city and country in stretch limos and private jets, and his shoe leather is rarely sullied by contact with the sidewalk.
Robert's expertise in the dark arts of investment have made him exceedingly wealthy: he lives in splendour at a Gramercy Park mansion, is married to a handsome philanthropist called Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and has just made the cover of Fortune magazine.
Everything is tickety-boo, so his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) is surprised when Robert announces that he's about to sell his company along with its blue-chip client list.
Robert says he wants to kick back and enjoy life, but Brooke doesn't believe him. And when she looks through the company's records she discovers a $400m hole in the accounts. Her dad has been cooking the books, and borrowed the $400m from another hedge fund mogul after losing his shirt investing in a Russian mine.
Now the friend is calling in his loan, and if Miller doesn't sell his company by the end of the week his empire will collapse.
Robert is also bankrolling a young mistress, a French painter called Julie (Laetitia Casta) whom he's installed in a company apartment. He sneaks off to see her whenever he can, but Julie is getting tired of playing second fiddle.
The pressure on Robert is becoming unbearable, and one night he snaps and asks Julie to drive away to the country with him for a break. But their car crashes and Julie is killed: a relatively unharmed Robert is faced with a moral dilemma, and his solution is not particularly admirable.
He flees the scene, but a nosey cop (Tim Roth) soon makes the connection between Laetitia and Miller, and sets out to bring down the debonair billionaire.
Alhough extremely limited in terms of his acting range, Gere has a real flair for playing morally dubious monomaniacs.
He creeps about like a bishop in a brothel, and his clenched jaw and constipated dialogue powerfully evoke a man coping with intolerable pressure. Robert Miller is amoral rather than odious, but the chilling ease with which he rationalises all his failings suggests an empathy-free personality. It's probably the best performance Gere has ever given, notwithstanding his fine work on The Hoax.
Gere, and Jarecki's film, move elegantly through the cossetted world of America's ruling class, where hardship is a half-forgotten concept and practically every problem can be solved with money.
Roth is very good as a working- class cop who rails impotently from the sidelines, but fails to realise that the super rich operate by a different set of rules, and are untouchable, no matter what they do.