“Arbitrage”

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I was really looking forward to this movie — I guess I haven’t seen Richard Gere onscreen since the last time “Pretty Woman” was on TV (which actually wasn’t that long ago, but the movie is getting pretty old by now).   Here is the writeup from my theater’s website:

“Arbitrage, the feature directorial debut of writer Nicholas Jarecki, is a taut and alluring suspense thriller about love, loyalty, and high finance.

When we first meet New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) on the eve of his 60th birthday, he appears the very portrait of success in American business and family life.  But behind the gilded walls of his mansion, Miller is in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading empire to a major bank before the depths of his fraud are revealed.  Struggling to conceal his duplicity from loyal wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and brilliant daughter and heir-apparent Brooke (Brit Marling), Miller’s also balancing an affair with French art-dealer Julie Côte (Laetitia Casta).  Just as he’s about to unload his troubled empire, an unexpected bloody error forces him to juggle family, business, and crime with the aid of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a face from Miller’s past.  One wrong turn ignites the suspicions of NYPD Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), who will stop at nothing in his pursuits.   Running on borrowed time, Miller is forced to confront the limits of even his own moral duplicity.  Will he make it out before the bubble bursts?”

The movie was shown as part of my local theater’s “On the Couch” series: a psychiatrist comments on the film (do I need to make a distinction between films and movies?) afterwards, and invites questions from the audience.   On this occasion, she took to the microphone briefly beforehand and urged us to think about this question, for later discussion: “Where is your outrage?”

Well, I took it to mean “in what specific way is my outrage directed?” rather than, as it turned out she really meant, “why do you not feel any outrage at this movie?”  So while I was watching I occasionally flipped the question around in my mind, and did manage to find a couple of things that I thought were in fact outrageous.  I thought that the behavior and attitude of Gere’s mistress were pretty outrageous, the behavior of the detective, and at the end, Susan Sarandon’s character’s ultimatum.  But I was also happy to see her get a role she could get her teeth into (and then bare them LOL), compared to the last movie I saw her in (“Robot & Frank”).

But when it became clear what the psychiatrist had really intended her question to mean (lack of outrage such as one might feel after a Michael Moore movie), it didn’t bother me that I didn’t feel outraged by the financier’s shoddy behavior or risk-taking throughout.  I don’t think the filmmakers intended that, either.  What the film showed us is the discrete bubble-world of the extremely rich — I guess you could feel outraged that the rules that apply to the 99% don’t apply to them, but such generalized outrage is hard for a work of fiction to muster in viewers, especially when it is not the major goal of the filmmakers.   I suppose the film could have built up the comparisons with the one decent character — Jimmy — who was outside the bubble, but it didn’t.   That was not the point.   I saw it as more of an anthropological study than a morality play.

Overall, I liked “Arbitrage.”  Richard Gere is really good in it, puffy eyes or not, and the plot twists are ingenious.   Pretty neat, actually.  The ending is ambiguous, though.  Maybe I need to see it again…

As for the Q&A with the shrink, at this point I am not remembering very much about it, which would seem to indicate that it did not provide any profound insights.   I do remember thinking that some members of the audience were not apparently paying much attention to the plot, or they would not have needed to ask the confused questions they did.

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