Friday, September 14, 2012

The Upscale Thriller ARBITRAGE Is Right On The Money

ARBITRAGE (Dir. Nicholas Jarecki, 2012)

Not since “Bonfire of the Vanities” (the book not the awful movie) has witnessing the potential downfall of a financial bigwig been so entertaining.

In Jarecki’s also Manhattan-set “Armitrage,” Richard Gere is indeed what Tom Wolfe called “a master of the universe” in “Bonfire,” and he, like his spiritual descendant Sherman McCoy (a so miscast Tom Hanks in the movie version, which again is terrible) gets into a tragic automobile accident that could derail his wealthy standing.

Gere is great here as the sort of suave investment genius that graces the cover of Forbe’s, and is regularly profiled on MSNBC.

In an early scene, while suiting up, Gere asks his wife (Susan Sarnadon) how he looks. “Regal, wise, and a bit worried,” she responds. This is before the accident, when Gere’s only problem is that his company is millions in debt, and he’s having trouble closing the deal for its sale. Sure, that’s a mighty big problem, but throw in involuntary manslaughter, and you’ve got yourself a clusterfuck of fraud and murder.

After Gere falls asleep at the wheel of his car, and wrecks it killing his mistress (Laetitia Casta), he pulls a Teddy Kennedy and flees the scene. Gere doesn’t phone the police - no, he calls Nate Parker, as the young black son of his former chauffeur to come pick him up.

Soon on the tycoon’s trail is Tim Roth as a slouching scruffy detective, who knows Gere’s guilty.

Roth has a Columbo-ish interrogation style. Take his casual last question “what happened to your head?” as he’s leaving Gere’s office and notices a scab on the man’s forehead. Sure has a “oh, uh, one more thing…” ring to it to me.

As Gere’s daughter and business partner, Brit Marling (“Another Earth”) has a few choice scenes as she is as much on the trail of wrongdoings that Roth is. The emotional tension is palpable when Marling finds out the awful truth about her dad, same with Sarandon, although she acts less shocked. Sarandon appears to have been expecting Gere’s dynasty to crumble for ages.

In what could’ve been a thankless accomplice part, Parker puts in a convincingly stressed-out performance - almost a counterpoint to Gere’s much more expensive stress.

I was reminded not only of Wolfe’s “Bonfire,” but of Woody Allen’s CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. The guilty V.I.P. in that film (Martin Landau) suffered more over issues of morality in his dire predicament, yet both films share the bewilderment over what price the wealthy will pay to stay wealthy.

Compellingly plotted, and as sophisticated as the luxurious trappings it depicts, ARBITRAGE signals the beginning of awards buzz season.

Gere has undeniable star power whether you’re a fan of him or not, and here he more than earns an Oscar nomination. The same could be said for director/writer Nicholas Jarecki, whose first full length feature this is.

The ending, I’m sure, may leave some folks cold, but this upscale thriller is on the money and well worth your time.

More later...

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