Crime thriller’s plot holes undermine solid performances
Arbitrage, the latest film from director Nicholas Jarecki, commits a series of cinematic crimes almost as dastardly as the federal offenses it depicts. Poorly plotted and unsuccessfully developed, this Richard Gere vehicle belongs in movie jail.
The film tells the story of Robert Miller (Gere), a Wall Street billionaire reaching retirement age and facing the repercussions of an extramarital affair, among a number of other illicit activities. Miller, the owner of a huge trading company, will stop at nothing to protect his fortune and reputation. He confronts a string of mistakes, which ultimately leads to both a messy attempt to cover up his fraud and a sudden end to his romance with French art dealer Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta).
Attempting to conceal his fraudulent behavior, Miller desperately tries to sell his business to a major bank, paying off whoever he can in the process. But deep into negotiation, the deal becomes shaky, and so does Miller’s character. After a visit to his mistress’ art gallery — one of his many investments — he makes a grave mistake that causes him to become a part of an unexpected cover-up with a man from his past: Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker, a native of my Norfolk hometown). Their vaguely defined relationship makes it difficult to believe Grant would stick his neck out so far for Miller, especially in light of what Grant thinks Miller has done. Every aspect of Miller’s life seems to be falling apart. Even working with his daughter begins to put a strain on their relationship. Miller has fallen in too deep and appears to be drowning as his family life and business become too much to handle.
In cahoots with what seems to be everyone in town, Miller continues to pursue a profitable buyout from a major bank. His frequent struggles to seal the deal and protect his image make for some tense suspense, which unfortunately often gives way to confusion and muddied plot points.
Though Gere and Parker raise the stakes somewhat with top-notch performances, the storyline constantly works against them. Underdeveloped characters, such as Miller’s wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon), whose role remains unexplored, contribute to the film’s downfall. Unexplained injuries and connections make for more than a few plot holes. And even when lines are delivered perfectly, their context tends to feel unclear or awkward. While watching the film, I constantly found myself reaching for an invisible remote so that I could pause, rewind and consider the implications of each shaky scene.
Riddled with narrative inconsistencies and many unanswered questions, the film sinks still lower into the depths of cinematic purgatory when its unsatisfying ending arrives. What was intended as a clever and provocative cliffhanger conclusion left me shaking my head in disappointment. Too many loose ends were left undone.
Despite some highs, including superior acting and watching a Norfolk native, the lackluster plot made my movie-watching experience a waste of time and money. Director Jarecki and his crew might not have engaged in high crimes or embezzlement, but I still left the theater feeling cheated.