It is quite possible that if it were not for the existence of the wonderfully engaging and brilliantly disconcerting The Grey, that Arbitrage would stand to be the most underrated film of 2012. In fact, it is no surprise that both films deal with similar philosophical issues, while simultaneously deconstructing the myth of unbridled masculine privilege. One uses wolves and the cold, while the other uses financial stress and guilt to drive its point across, however, Arbitrage, unlike The Grey, commits to making sure its viewers understand the power and privilege that come with being rich, white and male, so much so that the film manages to almost cause a person to relate to a person who is completely engaged in terrible behavior. It is a film that manages, to show both the glossy glamour of having such a sway in the daily lives of those below an individual, as to be able to mold and alter the world and those in it to bend at one's illogical and greedy will. Director, and writer for the film, Nicholas Jarecki has managed to tap into everything that cinema has attempted to reject, while still managing to completely draw attention to its problems. If the film were not so focused on the "idea" powerful character, I would be inclined to compare it to a Soderbergh film, especially, considering that it has the sort of dreary detachment from the characters, while also possessing an uncanny interest in their most arbitrary engagements. Narratively speaking it is of the same vein as The Ides of March, a film from a year earlier, or, perhaps Michael Clayton, where, in both instances, George Clooney emerges as a man whose privilege allows him to do pretty much anything he needs in order to assure his safety and continued reign of power. Arbitrage is much the same sort of film, however, it seems like Jarecki wants to remind viewers that in the case of this film, the privilege can only allow the main character so much access and his moments of having the upper hand will eventually falter, leaving him with nothing but his sense of momentary escape. The pawns the formulate the other films of this nature are certainly present, however, by the films closing its is they who have come to realize their power in helping the king, if you will, win the game and their demands for providing such aid are more than reflective of knowledge about how much the king can truly provide.
Arbitrage follows the experiences of the incredibly successful financial broker and investment advisor Robert Miller (Richard Gere), as he is lining up to sell his brokerage firm to a buyer for a high profit. However, slight problems emerge for Roger as he has managed to lose a considerable portion of his company's money to a ill-advised hedge investment in a Russian copper mine. Fortunately, Robert has tons of friends in high places, therefore, allowing him to navigate through tax audits and various fraud inquiries with ease and lack of concern. In fact, Roger is so aware of his safety that he openly lies to his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) when she inquires as to the blatant financial discrepancies in their accounting records. However, as he has just reached his sixtieth birthday and knows he has a successful retirement he engages in a party with his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and acts completely disconnected from the illegal fraud he is engaged with for his soon to be sold business. The story, however, also involves another degree of Robert's deception, particularly, when he steps out of his own birthday to engage in another evening with a woman named Julie (Laetita Casta) for whom it is suggested he has had a long standing affair. It is not until Robert's buyer begins to get cold feet that he begins to worry, even going so far as to blow off an art opening for Julie to attempt to close the deal. This decision leads to Julie becoming infuriated with him and ignoring him when he does arrive at her exhibit. Nonetheless, Robert tracks her down later in the evening and apologizes, eventually getting Julie to agree to travel on the road for a few hours. It is during this drive that Richard falls asleep at the wheel leading to a intense crash and the immediate death of Julie. Frantic not for Julie's safety, but for the effects such an incident would have on his reputation, and, subsequently, his ability to close the sale, Robert takes advantage of the son of his former chauffeur Jimmy (Nate Parker) reminding the young man that it was he who helped pay for his father's expensive medical bills. Robert attempts to completely cover up all possibilities of his involvement in the accident, he is met with opposition by Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) whose determination to prove that no man is above the law lead him to maniacally attack every course of option, even attempting to frame Jimmy with the hopes of causing him to snitch on Robert. However, the film winds down, much as a chess game would, with defensive strategy and stalling, however, in the end the one with more in possession and a willingness to exploit others to his advantage always wins, and Arbitrage reminds viewers that this is no different, although the closing scenes certainly suggest that guilt becomes an intense burden.
Arbitrage is a film that brings to light the age old adage about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. I would love to say that Robert, as a character, comes to realize that he is a greedy and self-serving individual who understands that his terrible actions will eventually catch up with him, however, the film shows that an individual who absolutely ignores any sort of moral high road and throws his money in the right places can certainly get away with anything, including reckless endangerment to the point of involuntary manslaughter. While the trailer for this movie uses the crash scene unapologetically, it really seems to be the driving force in this movie, prior to his accident, Robert was already walking on a very tight rope and when it breaks he is forced to put everything in front of him to soften the fall. I mentioned the chess metaphor, because it works nicely to consider the way that "otherness" is a point of exploitation and oppression within this film. Robert is able to put a person like Jimmy below him, because he clearly believes him to be of a lesser value than him in regards to human life. Robert is a person of value who is self-assured to the point of hubris (going so far as to act unaware about what exactly as to what an "Applebee's is) whereas, Robert's blackness is often called to attention. The scene where Robert's girlfriend, a woman of color, supports him, certainly plays into the degrees of intersectionality, which could be read as problematic, but considering the message of the film, it is clearly served up for ironic purposes. Similarly, Robert seems to have no hesitations throwing his daughter, a woman, thus othered, under the bus in order to assure that he gets what he desires. The magical moment comes when Ellen and Brooke realize that their two others can unite to attack the "self," Ellen and Brooke obtained their desired gains out of the process, lessening Robert, even if only to the slightest of degrees. Furthermore, you could read Jimmy's obtaining of the money from Robert as his own victory, although it is absolutely clear that Jimmy's reward comes not from the economic gain, but from forcing Robert to acknowledge that they are now "even," or in a larger context equals. Of course, these are all spoken affirmations and do nothing for the very real loss of Julie. nonetheless, Robert is assumedly lesser privileged as a result, yet the film cleverly reminds us that even in that instance, Robert can still move through some pretty high places.
Key Scene: The car crash is intense, even if you know it is coming, the degree with which the mood is heightened is filmmaking perfected.
This is a great film, I thoroughly enjoyed it, however, it is still a bit on the pricey side to purchase. I would strongly urge renting it for the time being.