After straining himself too thin between his work deception, his family life, and his extracurricular activities, Robert decides to take his unhappy mistress Julie, played by Laetitia Casta, away for the weekend. During the drive he falls asleep at the wheel and in the horrendous car crash that follows, she’s killed. He does his best to stage the scene and flee with the naïve help of a young family friend, Jimmy Grant, played by Nate Parker, before the authorities show up. His less-than-perfect attempt to cover the vehicular homicide leads detective Michael Bryer, played by Tim Roth, right to his high-rise, glass-enclosed office. The tension reaches its boiling point as Robert continues to build his flimsy card castle of deception.
On its surface, Arbitrage is a slick, fairly well-paced thriller with excellent performances. Richard Gere excels in this role, as does Susan Sarandon as his observant and self-preservationist wife. The only problem here is that Robert is a pretty despicable and one-dimensional man, and the only thing he proves is that money buys free passes in life, which is not exactly breaking new ground in the post-Madoff era. Robert uses his business associates, friends, and family as pawns. He uses family friend Jimmy Grant, a man with a record who was born into an entirely different socio-economic life, without a second thought. This is the Robert show and no one else matters.
Director and writer Nicholas Jarecki tells this story with Robert viewed through a protagonist’s lens. The film is quite direct in its style and storyline, which will help it appeal to an adult-base looking for a straightforward thriller. Any moral or ethical questions regarding Robert’s lifestyle are largely untouched. In essence, we are supposed to empathize with Robert, a sadly realistic character who lies and cheats through every scenario and relies on his money and power to rise above the law. By the end the plot twists that should leave a viewer smugly satisfied with the film’s cleverness, end up feeling hollow. The film is well executed but tone and point of view leave something to be desired. Overall, Arbitrage entertains, but it’s not exactly innovative for 2012.
Much like last year’s Margin Call, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions bought this film for a probable release in theaters and run on Video-On-Demand.