By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) -
A small, well-cast financial potboiler debuts in Sundance, is snapped up by a savvy distributor and sees solid results via both Video on Demand and limited release, and stirs up some Oscar chatter to boot. Nope, we’re not talking about last year’s Margin Call.
This all also applies to Arbitrage, although the jury’s obviously still out on whether it matches Margin Call’s Oscar nomination. Screenplay’s not happening, but don’t count out Richard Gere, who stars as a CEO who finds himself in not one but two serious criminal dilemmas, and has roughly 24 hours to resolve both.
And that solicitation charge’s been following him around for years to boot
One of the major plot points of this film is an impending merger of Gere’s company with a huge bank that will solve all of his many problems and cover up past financial indiscretions in one fell swoop. However, instead of leading to the Wall Street potboiler you might expect, it instead provides an engine for familial drama; a welcome development for those that may have been put off by all of the impenetrable business lingo in Margin Call and its ilk.
This plot cooks at a slow simmer, so the screenwriters decided to go all Emeril Lagasse and Bam! it up with another plotline that hits you like a fistful of fresh cayenne. If possible, go into this flick blind, because the introduction of this is excellent.
Living on borrowed time from that massive coronary since 1999
Arbitrage does a good job of raising the stakes and keeping things tense with some well-placed plot twists, but what really makes things work is the (almost) all-around strong acting. Susan Sarandon and up-and-coming indie darling Brit Marling are as good as always as Gere’s wife and daughter, and Gere himself shows more passion than he has in possibly decades, in a performance that has some folks whispering Oscar. For my money, though, the standouts are Nate Parker, playing a young man Gere unexpectedly must turn to for help, and police officer Tim Roth, who straight up wins at accents while he’s chewing up screentime.
The only mood the score established for me was “Goddamit, Cliff Martinez.” But even its overly intrusive, soft jazz-infused mediocrity was preferable to Laetitia Casta’s French-accented dialing it up to 11 of every scene she’s in.
Like this, but all that comes out is Francophonic nagging
While this film is great at establish high stakes, it’s not so much at resolving them… believably at least. Everything’s a little too pat and paint by numbers; you can pretty much see the gears turning in director/screenwriter Nicholas Jarecki’s head as the plot chugs along.
Come for the Richard Gere performance, stay for the high stakes balancing act, have a few beers while you’re here.
Take a Drink: every time you hear business lingo
Take a Drink: every time someone mentions money
Do a Shot: for: Plot Twist!