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Cinema Signal: A Wall Street villain and Richard Gere in an award-worthy portrayal. Go! MOBILE: |
. "Arbitrage"

Strictly speaking, "arbitrage" is the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices. More to the point is that an arbitrage is a transaction that may make a bundle of money at no cost and no risk for the sophisticated, highly placed trader.

That person, here, is billionaire New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere, "Nights in Rodanthe") who has been cooking the books to make his company look better off than it really is in order to close a deal on a substantial buyout that'll make all the debts go away. The complication arises when his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling, "Sound of My Voice"), a super-sharp offspring who happens to be Miller's chief investment officer (not quite the CFO), shows a whole different moral spine. She challenges the numbers and throws the CEO a block like he's never had before.

This becomes a scene between father and daughter in which he tries to convince Brooke -- who has discovered the phony accounting -- of the desirability of cheating when protecting his employees and his shareholders make a temporary deception a necessary evil. This is something like Bill Clinton trying to convince us that nothing he did in the White House could be called sex.

Now, it's not so much a matter of a half million or so, it's his beloved daughter's respect that's on the line and the risk her standards pose for him. As for his sturdy wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"), she's been on to the philanderer she's living with in their palatial digs and knows that his late night "work" for weeks and months is a tryst with one Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta). Ellen Miller's got a whole other play in mind for her "family man."

But Miller's ship of stately appearances, while roiling in the rough seas of high finance and family issues, face far rougher turbulence when the sinister Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth, "The Incredible Hulk") shows up with his crafty questioning and readiness to bend every rule in the book to take down a suspect whose guilt is a foregone conclusion. Which makes the involvement of wizened lawyer Syd Felder (Stuart Margolin) critical in helping the skipper to rebuff the unfriendly legal head winds.

All in all, first-time feature writer/director Nicholas Jarecki ("The Outsider," documentary) focuses an instructive lens on Wall Street shenanigans after last year's less personal but also instructive, "Margin Call". The essential difference between the two Wall Street exposes being that "Margin Call's" plot device was the super-rich owner facing bankruptcy by brazenly using a different strategy to make money on his company's last day in business. A different "arbitrage."

Jarecki shovels more depravity out of the legally challenged soul of a crooked arbitrageur who boasts of his image as an iconic caring father and solid citizen supporting the wife's philanthropy. Another charade; another expose' targetting the unscrupulous breed that thrives in the jungle of financial fortune. And a rather substantial accomplishment for a first time writer-director.

If you've ever had hopes for an actor to get the part you think he's capable of despite a string of mediocrity, you might share with me the certainty that this role of a man torn between his two worlds, finances and family, is at last, the kind of material the leonine Gere, with his magnificent head of silver-gray hair and handsome features has been waiting for.

Forget the romances and the super-spy killer he was asked to portray in The Double." This, a man caught up in his readiness to deceive and betray to save his company while believing that business exigency overrides criminality, is Gere's meat! Not a character to root for, yet the actor does the pose of the charismatic scoundrel well enough to keep us cemented in place while he grapples with a kind of morality few of us have privy to or might participate in.

The movie is duly gripping and provides Gere material with which he can and does exploit with his looks, charm and range of shadings. I'm happy that we've seen him at his best, for the time being. My faith in his potentials has been rewarded with this piece of work that is so perfectly suited to him. Another reward might be in store for him come award time.

These Wall Street magnates... they're taking their hits as the villains of the day in post-Enron, post-AIG, post-Lehman Brothers, post Bernie Madoff America. The breed is getting its just condemnations, but it's the movie makers, the studios and indies -- not us -- who're making money on it. But that's just because it makes for great yarns and characters that meet the demands that "we expect an explanation!!" and, maybe, a little sense of justice... if the film provides it.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Richard Gere is Wall Streeter Robert Miller.
Where exigency trumps morality.
A brilliant portrayal.

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