Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, an investment guru with a loving family, firebrand mistress (Laetitia Casta) and a chance to sell off his trading empire -- a move that will make him unfathomably wealthy.
But Gere's Miller is cool only on the surface. Between the charity balls and corporate standoffs, Miller scrambles to cover up millions in debt, hide his felonies from the family and keep mistress Julie from losing her temper publicly.
Written and directed by feature freshman Nicholas Jarecki, Arbitrage crams a lot into its 100 minutes, especially when a car crash attracts bloodhound detective Michael Bryer (Roth).
The twists are almost too much for a financial thriller, one that at times aims to be this generation's Wall Street. That 1987 Michael Douglas drama excoriated those who believed greed is good, but Miller has a different view of currency: "It is God."
The moralizing could suffer in inexperienced hands, but the veteran cast gives the movie's didactic moments a subtler tone.
Sarandon, in particular, who plays Miller's entitled wife, Ellen, is utterly convincing. At 65, she manages to look as if she has never fought age -- or suffered from it. She's terrific as a dutiful wife watching the walls close in on their Manhattan mansion like a boa constrictor. And Roth is happy to apply the pressure with a thick New York accent that's his best turn since Pulp Fiction.
If there's a hiccup in the performances, it's Gere. He's great at playing sad or angry: The emotion behind those coin-slot eyes looks as if it's going to burst from his cranium.
Alas, this role calls for a studly carnivore like Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, whose glee at destroying enemies was half the fun of the film. Gere isn't ineffective as a tycoon; he just can come off more like a guy who'd lend a buck as much as steal it.
And for the record, because it's never explained (or mentioned) before the film seems to end without warning: Webster's defines "arbitrage" as the simultaneous purchase and sale of securities or foreign exchange to profit from price discrepancies. If you have to look up the definition of your movie's title, it's the wrong title.
Still, the supporting roles are too strong to let Arbitrage sink beneath contrivance. The Wire's Reg E. Cathey is a standout as Earl Monroe, an attorney willing to get his corporate elbows dirty for a client. Casta gives Arbitrage surprising sensuality and combustible emotion; her only failing in the film is she doesn't get enough screen time.
Arbitrage may not be the power broker of the awards season, but it's a solid investment in fall moviegoing.
(*** out of four; rated R; 1 hour, 40 minutes)
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