Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Arbitrage (2012) **1/2

The definition of arbitrage is:

The simultaneous purchase and sale of an asset in order to profit from a difference in the price. It is a trade that profits by exploiting price differences of identical or similar financial instruments, on different markets or in different forms.”

In other words, arbitrage is yet another way of making money without actually producing anything of value. In the film “Arbitrage,” securities trader Robert Miller (Richard Gere) has grown rich this way, but his latest scheme has not worked out well. In order to hide the losses from a bad bet that was against his own company's rules, he is selling the company. With altered account books and with secretly borrowed money in the bank, he hopes to fool his potential buyers and leave them with the losses. Miller needs everything to remain stable and quiet until the sale can go through, but fate is against him. First his daughter becomes suspicious of the company's books, then Miller gets into a car accident in which his mistress dies. This random mistake threatens to kill the buyout deal, which would leave Miller with no way to cover his losses, and ultimately lead to jail time for fraud. With the clock ticking, Miller scrambles to protect a web of lies that grows to threaten his family, his friends, and his freedom.

“Arbitrage” would never work without an actor of Richard Gere's caliber, because, really, there is nothing to admire about Robert Miller. His self-image and the image he projects to the world is of this patriarch, this wise lion of the financial industry. Really, though, he's just a guy who gambles with other people's money and likes to screw a young woman on the side. He's a fraud, and cheering on his efforts to maneuver his own labyrinth is ultimately an un-rewarding experience. Robert Miller is surrounded by people who are much better human beings than he is, but alas, he is the protagonist, so it's him we have to follow as the sordid tale wends its way. More unfortunate is that while Miller is lousy, he isn't evil enough to be really interesting. Even with Richard Gere trying desperately to liven the guy up, he isn't nearly as compelling as the Frances Underwood character from “House of Cards.”

As ably acted and directed as it is, “Arbitrage” is ultimately a milquetoast thriller. Nothing in it will make you groan, but there's nothing in it to compel you to watch it either.

2.5 stars out of 5

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