Arbitrage: The practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: When used by academics, an arbitrage is a transaction that involves no negative cash flow at any probabilistic or temporal state and a positive cash flow in at least one state; in simple terms, it is the possibility of a risk-free profit at zero cost
Arbitrage is a film all about risk and at its centre is a man who seems to understand risk. Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a successful financier; he's built his hedge fund into a billion-dollar powerhouse, and he has a classy wife (Susan Sarandon), a beautiful home, a pneumatic mistress (Laetitia Casta) and a successful daughter (Brit Marling). Miller is a consummate risk manager and he seems to apply the same principles to his personal life as he does to his professional life; it's all about maximising. He must have the most successful daughter, the most perfect marriage, a stainless reputation and an alpha-male image. But this Shangri-La is all glossy façades and ugly little lies. Miller does whatever is necessary to maintain the image of perfection, he is warm and flattering and persuasive, he is always whatever he needs to be. But behind the scenes Robert Miller has actually been taking greater and greater risks to maintain his image, he has been teetering on the edge of having nothing at all for months, maybe years. This makes Richard Gere a rather perfect choice to play him. He's genial and handsome, still wears that Pretty Woman rich guy charm. So it takes longer than it might to realise that this Robert Miller is not just a little bit wayward, or misguided, this high-flying banker is a complete shark, as cold as they come.
A car crash proves to be the straw that breaks the camels back, and the balancing act starts to wobble as the menagerie of financial, professional, and emotional vultures circling his life start to pick away at him. What is revealed is a truly soulless man, pitifully lonely, narcissistic and untrusting, even of his wife. He struggles and lies and cheats to keep his family and his mistress happy, while never believing in the possibility of happiness for himself. Instead Miller chooses to shoulder everything himself, even if it means betraying everyone close to him and destroying everything they have.
Director Nicolas Jarecki shoots Manhattan beautifully; he lets the hard, glossy surfaces of the Wall Street milieu gleam while the silky exterior of Miller unravels in front of it. Tim Roth is superb as the detective assigned to investigate the crash; he spends much of the movie practically horizontal, draping himself on sofas and slumping in cars as he turns the screws. The scenes between him and Gere are especially tense. Roth exudes a finely nuanced intelligence which sees straight through Miller's glamorous image to the rotten core beneath, but he never quite manages to mask his own gnawing cynicism.
There is no doubt that that Miller is guilty, indeed the scale of his guilt is vaster than any of the other characters imagine, but it is the balancing act Miller tries to maintain that drives Arbitrage forward. It seems as though everything could crumble at any minute and he might finally come clean to his wife, his daughter, his partners or the police. But he also never ceases twisting and turning and trying to negotiate his way out of things. There is a moment, in a superb scene, when Miller attempts an audacious piece of deal-making just as his life is on the point of total collapse, and you wonder if he might just pull the whole thing off.
Arbitrage has a sure grasp on the trappings and language of wealth and finance, perhaps because Jarecki's parents were commodity brokers themselves, but it also pulls no punches as it savages the collusion of money and power that allows the wealthy to get away with what the poor may not. As a character study it's exemplary, Gere is no scenery chewer and his measured restraint keeps the film from overplaying its hand, the supporting cast are all good enough not to get in the way of a well structured script and just let Gere and Roth get on with it. You never, at any point, actually want this horrid, shallow, shiny person to succeed but the cleverness of this film is that you do want to see what becomes of him, hoping for the worst, but fearing otherwise.