As Robert Miller (Richard Gere) returns to his mansion to celebrate his 60th birthday with his family, everything seems to be in order. He has it all. His profitable hedge fund is up for sale – guaranteeing his continued wealth and social standing. His wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) is a respected Manhattan socialite, and his daughter and heir apparent Brooke (Brit Marling) looks set to continue building the family fortune.
But all is not as it seems. Miller has a few skeletons in his closet. It seems his hedge fund is not the money-making machine the world would believe. A few investments gone awry mean that Miller's been cooking the books with borrowed money. He must complete the sale of his company immediately before the extent of his fraud is revealed.
Miller has another secret as well: an ongoing affair with art gallery manager Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta). Stretched by the demands of his work, family and mistress, Miller struggles to keep up and when he (yet again) stands up Cote, they have a furious argument. Miller convinces Cote to leave town with him for a couple of days. And then comes the mistake that could cost Miller everything.
Miller seeks the aid of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker) to get him out of the mess and in doing so, sucks Grant into his shadowy world. NYPD detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) has other ideas and sets about pursuing Miller. Faced with the loss of his freedom, fortune and marriage, Miller rushes to convince his wife and daughter that all is fine, despite the dark clouds lurking on the horizon.
Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, Arbitrage, unlike the excellent film Margin Call, is not solely a Wall Street disaster movie. Instead, courtesy of Miller's mistake and subsequent pursuit by the cops, it's part thriller as well. And that's the problem with the film: both plot lines – Miller's loss of wealth and Miller's mistake – don't really connect in any way. It's kind of like two movies in one – either plot could easily exist without the other. And the idea that the two happen at the exact same time strains credibility.
But Gere is terrific as Robert Miller – his depiction of a once mighty businessman is both convincing and interesting. Susan Sarandon and Nate Parker also give solid performances, unlike Tim Roth, who is bizarrely miscast as a New York police detective.
Arbitrage is good fun if you don't take it too seriously, and the suspense that builds towards the end places it a cut above many thrillers. As Miller's rush to save everything becomes urgent, and despite his questionable behaviour, you almost end up hoping that he succeeds – that he makes it out before the bubble bursts.
Nicholas Gordon attended a media screening of Arbitrage, courtesy of Madman Entertainment and WeekendNotes.