Review: Arbitrage, by Nicholas Jarecki
The Greed of the Dead Conscience
11.10.2012 - In his debut feature, Nicholas
Jarecki has crafted a film that analyses society's deeply rooted
class structures, a deadlock that leads to a dead conscience. In Arbitrage, the protagonist Robert
Miller (played by Richard Gere) hides his crimes behind the mask of
an intelligent and sophisticated man; he has a strong, shrewd
personality and is one who takes initiatives. He attacks every
opportunity of a suspicious business deal, fighting against all
odds to stay on top of a corrupt financial system.
Miller was born into a family business, a member of a social
class that plays with billions of dollars, a society that has no
mercy for the timid and faint-hearted. It's a system that takes its
toll on society - a human toll worth much more than what is traded
within the walls of Wall Street.
Jarecki surrounds his protagonist with a web of intrigues; he is
the ultimate professional, a performer who portrays whatever image
matches the expectations people have for him. We see Miller on his
private jet, reprimanding his assistant for the mistakes in a
report, fending off a reporter's questions about investment risks
during the real estate crisis in the US that led to the global
financial crisis. We see him as a father celebrating his birthday
amongst his family, forbidding any discussion of business. We
discover his affair with a young French mistress, even as he is
swimming in enormous debt. He is a child of the 1950s, who learned
from his parents that it is not about the crisis, but about when it
takes place - an idea that in a way leads him to his
What destiny awaits the Wall Street supremo when he is
convicted? The answer lies in the political and class system.
If this system were to remove its tacit consent (not to say
protection), he might face harsh retributions and a major
When an accident leads to the death of Miller's mistress, and
his miraculous survival, he conceals the tragedy, allowing the
African American son of his deceased chauffeur to take the blame in
order to save his reputation and status. But determined police
detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) shadows Miller, seeking revenge
on a class symbol protected from prosecution for so long.
Jarecki bases the events of the film on everyday occurrences
devoid of suspense and drama. It follows the life of man holding a
very influential position who falls victim to his own evil deeds.
More importantly, unlike its counterpart Margin Call (J.C.
Chandor, 2011), which focused on a group of bank executives
struggling to save their company from collapse during the first
shockwave of the financial crisis, Arbitrage puts family
in the midst of the fray, incorporating values like honesty and
loyalty to contrast them with the treason, conspiracy and cruelty
of this high-stakes world.
Miller faces a trial of his tainted conscience in the face of
his shame, when his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) accuses him of
hypocrisy, before his wife (Susan Sarandon) confronts him with his
betrayal, issues a harsh ultimatum and tells him that she will not
lie for him.
The film ends with impressive eloquence as we witness Miller,
who has passed the 'arbitrage' of his life, starting with being
exonerated for murder and leading to his recovery from his massive
debt, as he listens to his daughter honouring him as 'a dedicated
businessman and a family man' before the attendees rise to praise
him with applause. Their support is a tacit declaration that he
will never be a scapegoat for his crimes and he will be allowed to
create his own destiny, even if it requires unethical compromises
that affect the sanctity of his family and that of the company he
Zayed Al Khouza'ai