'Arbitrage' Capitalizes On Stellar Leads
Is there any character more fun to root for than a detective who’s trying his best to put together a case? Enter scene-stealer of the drama/thriller Arbitrage, Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), slouched on a plush couch in a swanky Manhattan hedge fund office the morning after a fiery car accident that results in a young woman’s death. Detective Bryer plays dumb in front of Robert Miller (Richard Gere), who was driving the car when it flipped and refuses to fess up. But Bryer knows more than he’s letting on, and with Miller lying to his face, Bryer is determined to bring down this smooth criminal the hard way.
Unfortunately, the film, written and directed by the young talent Nicholas Jarecki, strays from its most intriguing element. Jarecki instead chooses to focus on the inner workings of upscale corporate life, black tie affairs and tricky dealings, wherein no amount of wealth can buy security. By assuming this direction, Jarecki also paints a broader picture of Robert Miller, a man we meet just as his life has taken a series of dramatic turns that threaten the merger of his hedge fund.
Miller has been in a bind before, it seems. The husband and father of two had planned a late-night getaway with his mistress, Julie Cote (Laetistia Caster), an aspiring painter. When he falls asleep at the wheel, Cote is killed instantly and Miller escapes, but not unscathed. He knows what moves he needs to make. He places a call on a pay phone so that his cellphone cannot be linked to the incident, and when he arrives home he burns his clothes, which have become bloody from the growing wound along his ribs sustained during the accident. He then climbs into bed with his wife, Ellen (Susan Sarandon), who asks where he's been. He plays it cool, saying he went to get ice cream. "When will these lies catch up to him?" you may wonder. Sitting in his office the next day, Detective Bryer hopes the answer is sooner rather than later.
Jarecki’s story balances concerns of responsibility with the lengths an individual should — or will — go to achieve his means. One of the film’s most valuable assets is Gere’s understated performance, which enables Roth to let loose, experimenting with a New York drawl that lingers and winces with slow patience as he interrogates his suspect. It is a shame that so few of these interactions occur, because in the end the most interesting figure turns out not to be the man with a secret, but the man with a desire to expose it. “What happened to your head?” Bryer asks before leaving Miller’s office. When Miller lies, we can see in Bryer’s eyes that this is when the fun begins.
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