In “Arbitrage”, Richard Gere plays the part he’s played so many times – the immensely wealthy, devious, philandering and cunningly amoral power broker. The story centers around his – Gere’s Robert Miller – increasingly desperate attempts to cover up an affair made potentially visible by a fatal car accident at the same time that he’s also trying to cover up the imminent exposure of massive fraud in his company that’s up for sale. Will he succeed? Will he go to jail? Will good triumph over bad? Do we really care? It’s essentially Pretty Woman gone to the dark side. His foil is Tim Roth as a detective, who represents us – the ordinary man in the street schlub who may have right on their side, but not much else.
Director Nichloas Jarecki (a young up and coming New York director) wants to have it both ways. He wants us to despise Gere while being attracted by his deviousness (Gere is here well chosen for the part) and he wants to ensure that the movie has some sort of moral light to the darkness, which briefly is offered by Tim Roth’s character.
It’s a pleasant enough movie in the same way that junk food is pleasant: empty calories that fills you up and leaves you fatter at the end. For “Arbitrage” isn’t much more than a – nicely, tensely directed – TV drama with A-list stars (Susan Sarandon is Gere’s long-suffering – aren’t they all? – wife). Not a movie that’s really worth all the effort of going down to the cinema for in winter, but a gripping enough drama to kill a few hours if you chance upon it on a flight somewhere (as I did a few days ago).
Movies like this (and – for obvious reasons – there’s an increasing library of these types of stories centered on the cynicism and amorality of this caste of the super rich whose only moral code of conduct is marketplace driven) play to our hissing side. They’re like slickly packaged pantomimes where all the characters are bad guys – all served up to us fully skewered to allow us the vicarious thrill of feeling morally superior.
It’s the cinema of catharsis. We may not have their money, make-up or muscle, but we live happier, more fulfilling, less conniving lives. Aaah, another fantasy foisted on us by Hollywood