'Arbitrage' review: Fails the test of "Is it better than a 'Law and Order' episode?"

'Arbitrage'

'Arbitrage' (September 10, 2012)

**1/2 (out of four)

Ruthlessly pursuing a billionaire he’s sure deserves to be punished, detective Bryer (Tim Roth) laments, “He does not get to walk just because he’s on CNBC.”

Frustration toward the invincibility of the rich drives “Arbitrage,” a corporate and legal thriller that generates some powerful exchanges between familiar players. The big spender facing big trouble is financial exec Robert Miller (Richard Gere), who neglects responsibility and internal bleeding after a tragic incident involving his mistress (French model Laetitia Casta) ... not long after she inevitably comments, “You're never going to leave her.”

Robert wants to stay one step ahead of the cops until he can finalize the sale of his company. Delays of the sale only leave more time for Robert's daughter and corporate partner, Brooke (Winnetka-bred Brit Marling), to investigate questionable numbers on very important spreadsheets. Dad's internal bleeding may exist professionally as well as personally.

Last year “Margin Call” identified how high-ranking execs might lose perspective on huge sums of money until their books get out of hand. Last month the tremendous documentary “The Queen of Versailles” found unexpected vulnerability in a real-life couple undone by overindulging in their own success. “Arbitrage” doesn't exactly find new ground through Robert, who spends negligible time with his wife (Susan Sarandon) and puts Jimmy (Nate Parker of “Red Lights”), the son of his former driver, in a precarious position both because Robert trusts Jimmy more than his own son and because Robert ultimately doesn't care as much if something bad happens to a non-family member.

Initially suggesting a cautionary tale about the futility of running from problems, writer-director Nicholas Jarecki turns “Arbitrage” into a character study of an arrogant jerk who suffers the more he believes his own deceptions. The acting's just right, particularly Parker and Gere, who nails the movie's best scene as Robert finally sticks it to the man responsible for the pending merger's slowness.

Yet the possible presence of false evidence clouds the water of a movie that needs more grit and discovery. The depiction of money as the ultimate motivator should also inspire most viewers to mutter, “What else is new?”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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