Ar•bi•trage: noun. The simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices.
Robert Miller is a fund manager caught betwixt two mid-life crises: the precarious disposition of his business and the precarious disposition of a mistress. The mistress, a gallery owner named Julie Cote (played apropos by Laetitia Casta, once voted the symbolic representation of France), is killed in a car accident. An act of carelessness transforms into malice when Miller, half-awake, ploughs Julie’s Mercedes into a guardrail. He cannot allow anything to interfere in the completion of his firm’s sale to rival James Mayfield (Graydon Carter), so Miller proceeds to cover up his involvement in the wreck.
Every movie about getting away with it has to have a foil. Enter the skeptical, streetwise Detective Michael Breyer (Tim Roth). Like Alan Arkin in Andrew Niccol’s GATTACA, he’s the quintessential thorn, sticking his nose in where the Who’s Who of society would rather he didn’t. Miller’s flanked on the other side by his stalwart wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon), who knew him when he was scraping by and now begins to suspect that life is unraveling on all fronts. But she puts on a good face, pretending to be preoccupied with social goings on even as Detective Breyer attempts repeatedly to extort her with information she already knows (but we do not).
Brooke (Brit Marling), his heir, his protégé, his firm’s Chief Investment Officer, finds discrepancies in their bookkeeping. First-time feature director, Nicholas Jarecki, establishes a deep connection between the two—some women aspire not to marry men like their fathers, but to some day be like them. It’s refreshing to see a film in which the patriarch thinks nothing of the fact that his son isn’t fit to wear the crown.
Initially introduced without explanation as Robert’s false alibi, Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker) turns out to be one of the few people who can attest to Robert’s generosity in a way that doesn’t have any clandestine purpose, whereas Hollywood might have used him purely as a plot device. But the peripheral characters in this film are given just enough depth that you feel the impact that their thoughts and choices have on one another. When Jimmy struggles with his conscience after being pressured to turn state’s evidence on a debatable charge, it’s not a decision his girlfriend takes lightly… But it’s not treated as an irrational screaming match. It’s heartbreaking to know how his loyalty to everything Robert has done for him could annihilate their future plans.
Detective Breyer seems like an honest cop who seeks justice, but under that surface he is as skeevy as the Millers, who for years have had their own social agreement—out of sight, out of mind. In reality, Breyer employs coercion, defamation, and fabrication; the ends justify the means. This creates the film’s most engaging conflict. At some point, we don’t know who we’re rooting for, except to say that it’s not the pompous, eccentric Mayfield with whose character, perhaps, the writers and director went just a little too far. But Canadian-American journalist and editor of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, seems to be having so much fun with the part that it’s also a delight to hate his bloated, fat cat caricature.
Mr. Jarecki’s first stroke of genius is in convincing you to empathize not so much with Ellen, or Brooke (who seems prepared to throw herself under a bus for her father), but with Robert the puppetmaster who seduces everyone around him into getting exactly what he wants—survival. His second stroke of genius is just before the closing shot, which returns the film to its moral center (or lack thereof). Before the camera closes up on Robert’s face, we briefly see a cold expression on Brooke’s. The motif here is borrowed from one of Gordon Willis’ most famous closing shots: Everyone has a price.
Arbitrage • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 • Running Time: 100 minutes • MPAA Rating: R for language, brief violent images and drug use. • Distributed by Roadside Attractions