‘Arbitrage,’ a complex, reliable investment


I ntelligently tense and engaging, director Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage” revolves around Robert Miller, an arbitrageur. That’s fancy-speak for a fancy businessman, the type who got all the boos and hisses when the Great Recession hit a few years back. But Mr. Miller is no ordinary Wall Street profiteer. He also happens to be a great man.

More specifically, Mr. Miller, smartly portrayed by Richard Gere, has great abilities, though they are not necessarily dedicated to the commonweal.

If you’re jealous of such modern Olympian gods, take heart; the great and mighty get into trouble, too. A snazzy gamble-in-progress could put Robert up the river for a few years.

He grows on us, though. Maybe because he makes no excuses, no baloney about how he’s serving a crucial need. So it starts to seem impossible that this undaunted, steely general of the money wars — who hurtles from takeover victory to venture capital glory in private jet and Maybach — might meet his Waterloo. Forever flirting with disaster, like the alcoholic who must drink, the gambler who must wager, or the glutton who must eat, he is like an aberrant Columbus of the financial world. Robert considers himself immune to consequences of his actions. He’s also borrowed $412 million to cover a gaffe, and the IRS is sniffing around.

Added to the potential tragedy of any scheme he might have hatched is a fatal car accident, with our selfmade tycoon at the scene. That’s never a good place to be when one is trying to sell his hedge fund empire in order to cover its losses.

In the words of Sir Walter Scott, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” Robert relates differently to the world around him, to people and ideas alike. To call him antisocial, however, is a simplification. His relationships are carefully calculated and planned, and his emotions are kept under wraps like a rare wine or cherished secret. Robert says the right things at the right time.

This is apparent through his tête-à-tête with detective Michael

Bryer (Tim Roth) when the savvy gumshoe comes calling; fatherly chats with his daughter,

Brooke (Brit Marling), a pretty chip off the old financial block; carefully worded questions to his clever lawyer (Stuart

Margolin); and some edgy negotiations with his deceased chauffeur’s son (Nate Parker).

All very nicely played, these characters can’t help but become embroiled in Mr. Miller’s fight for survival as push comes to shove; it looks like his hubris is about to meet its reward. Technically, the move he has made is illegal. But somehow we don’t find him immoral.

As the proverbial walls come crashing in on this Wall Street wunderkind, we’re still somehow confident that there are redeeming factors forthcoming. Big shot or not, he feels superior not to his fellow man, but to the system he’s able to finagle and finesse.

After all, we’ve all experienced, to some degree, the conflicts he’s dealing with — navigating the murky area between right and wrong, coming to terms with our idea of morality, hoping for vindication. Or is that just me?

Even if you choose not to relate to, or sympathize with, Richard Gere’s astutely realized wheeler-dealer, the dramatic shaping of his persona as a modern-day bastardization of Achilles is erudite and telling of the times. Good direction, fine acting and a caustically uncompromised perspective make “Arbitrage” a blue-chip movie-going investment.