Let’s see – it’s been 30 years since Richard Gere as as young Zach Mayo got the daylights kicked out of him by his D.I. Sgt. Foley (Louis Gossett Jr.) near the beginning of the film, An Officer and a Gentlemen.
And it’s been 30 years since he carried off his dream woman, a factory worker named Paula, played by Debra Winger to end the same film.
At that moment, Gere’s Mayo may not have been anything more than a man in love. But as an actor he’d grow into more mature and adult roles. By 1990, Gere was partnered with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
In this film he was already a Master of the Universe – meaning he was a man who could have anything, or anyone he wanted. Until he ran into Roberts as Vivian Ward, a woman who’d play for pay. Only this time it wasn’t just about money.
Except at the box office where this film took in a very healthy 460 Million plus.
Fast forward to 2012, and we now have Richard Gere as Robert Miller in the new film, Arbitrage. In this one, Miller controls a hedge fund worth a ton (billions) but with an inexplicable $400 million hole in one of its i-beams. Miller lives in a Gramercy Park mansion in New York.
His trophy wife Ellen is played by Susan Sarandon, and he has two adult children and grandchildren.
His beautiful daughter Brooke, with her own MBA, is played by Brit Marling. Brooke is the CFO of Miller’s firm. In Miller’s own words, after all – he had it all - I am a patriarch.
You’d think that with all of the above he’d be happy with every thing he had. You’d think that with private jets, original art on the walls of his home, chauffered limos, expense accts, AND a beautiful and high maintenance mistress -
that he’d be happy to be called a Master of the Universe. But Robert is sixty and would like to spend more time with his family. At least that’s what he tells them and that is his public persona.
But what is really at stake – is the $400 million he gambled with that has became a hole in the ground in Russia. For a while, the copper flowed like a fountain and a lot of people did very well (read got rich) by investing in Miller’s Old Hill Fund. His investors reaped a 15.6 % return and all was good. Until it wasn’t good. The whole in the ground grew a cover, meaning that Russian ministers or bankers had their own game going with the result that Robert couldn’t get his money or his copper out of Russia.
Around this time, a large bank came around looking for a savvy and profitable hedge fund to fold into its corporate portfolio. Robert had to protect the pending deal and his firm (at least until the deal went through) so he borrowed privately – a vast sum – over $400 Million and hid the fact by cooking the books. It was a short term private loan – and as soon as the deal with the bank would go through, Robert would be out of it and have a fortune, more than enough to live comfortably for ever and that included paying off the loan with interest.
But things got complicated and quickly. The lender wanted his money. By Friday. Miller’s mistress required more time and more of his presence.
His daughter, the CFO, thought things looked somwhat askew on Miller’s books.The deal was put on hold by the buyer. Even the audit report was put on ice. Then there was the accident which Miller was responsible for but he stepped away from it. Which brought in a NYPD Detective Michael Bryer ( Tim Roth). You’ll have to decide for yourself if Roth used Peter Falk’s Columbo and/or Vincent D’Onofrio’s Robert Goren as his character models. Either way he was terrific.
There’s your setup. Director and screenwriter Nicholas Jarecki has woven a tale that delivers on suspense, and then puts you right into a dilemma. You see, Gere’s Robert Miller is a sleazy guy. He’s managed to drink the same cool-aid he’s been passing off to every one else in the film. “People count on me. People rely on me. I am the patriarch. I am the oracle.” Only Robert’s best instincts are those of survival. The dilemma for us is that Gere not only looks the part, but he would be everyone’s first choice for the role. As his misdeeds grow, along with his lies (but not his nose), we are caught up in his calculations, his machinations, and his utter chutzpah that not only should he get away with it, but by doing so he only proves his self worth.
Robert Miller lacks that intrinsically important human trait – that of feeling guilty. Miller shows no remorse whatsoever. Even when he tries to help someone he see it only from a financial perspective. When he ‘s asked – With you, why is it always about money, he replies, ‘Is there anything else [that matters]?
So we have to decide if we want to root Robert Miller home safely. Or are we outraged enough that if we could, we’d rat him out ourselves. And for that, Jarecki deserves kudos. This film didn’t have the flash of Michael Douglas in Wall Street, or the troubling aftertaste of those guys in Margin Call. No, this film had a smaller budget and a smaller scope. But Arbitrage reaches you where you live – no, not in wallet, but in your hearts and minds. Why? Because one part of you wants him to get caught – and there’s a part of you that doesn’t.
The dictionary definition of arbitrage is: The purchase of securities on one market for immediate resale on another market in order to profit from a price discrepancy. This film isn’t really about the shenanigans of Wall Street Masters of the Universe. The real central theme of this film is the arbitrage that goes on within ourselves about how to feel about Robert Miller.