A scene from the film 'Arbitrage', starring Richard Gere. Photography By Myles Aronowitz.
Richard Gere has been a leading man in movies for more than three decades now, yet few actors have a more curious basis for their success. He is a handsome fellow and an impressive presence on a big screen. Yet for every hit Gere has enjoyed (An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, Chicago) he has starred in movies that barely rate as indifferent. Each time I sit down to watch Gere on film, I automatically lower my expectations.
This is an ambivalent attitude for a member of the audience to adopt towards a film actor, yet it’s one into which his new movie Arbitrage plays rather successfully. Gere plays a fabulously wealthy Manhattan hedge-fund manager named Robert Miller, who has a gorgeous home, a loyal wife (Susan Sarandon) and an attractive family of which he is the hard-working patriarch. Gere has aged well, and the role suits him; if you need an actor who looks good in a $5,000 Italian suit, look no further.
Yet Miller is a man in all kinds of trouble. Firstly, he has a secret mistress, Julie (Laetitia Casta), a would-be artist without the requisite talent. As for his work, the stock market is in decline, investors are hastily withdrawing money from his fund, he has rashly borrowed a cool $400 million to paper the cracks on his company balance sheet, and payback time is approaching.
Things come to a head when, driving his car with Julie one night, he loses control, and Julie dies in the resulting crash. Miller’s instinct is to run away and cover his tracks.
In short, the edifice of Miller’s life is crumbling all around him at an ever-faster rate, and the overarching story of Arbitrage is whether Miller can keep afloat – keep creditors at bay, cover up the accident, and prevent his family from discovering the mess he’s in.
Here’s where an ambivalent attitude towards Gere actually helps Arbitrage. As Miller, he talks a good game; he’s fast on his feet, cynically manipulative; a nasty piece of work. Yet undeniably charismatic; when he walks into a room, with his impeccable suits and handsome beneath that magnificent mane of silver hair, all eyes turn his way.
The question is: as Miller’s life spins out of control, do we in the audience want him to wriggle out of his problems or get his just deserts? That’s the moral conundrum Arbitrage poses. I’m not sure it’s a good film, exactly, but it’s a hugely watchable one, and I enjoyed it from start to finish. Gere, it must be said, is in almost every frame and utterly dominates proceedings; so any credit to Arbitrage must go to him too. British actor Tim Roth is excellent as a dogged, sceptical cop who rightly guesses all there is to know about Miller, and doesn’t want him let off the hook.
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