Chuck Koplinski: Star's cool in unsympathetic role elevates 'Arbitrage'

Chuck Koplinski: Star's cool in unsympathetic role elevates 'Arbitrage'

Hedge fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) has it all — a phenomenally successful business, an expansive Manhattan townhouse, a beautiful, loving wife (Susan Sarandon), an adoring, healthy family and a gorgeous, talented mistress (Laetitia Casta). But like most Wall Street pigs, he wants more and has positioned himself to get just that.

A deal in which one of his companies will be sold is in the offing, and as long as it closes by the end of the week, all will be well. Problem is, he has had to borrow some money — $412 million — and move some other funds around to make the firm appear viable. His lender wants the money back, and his daughter (Brit Marling), the chief financial officer of the corporation, is starting to notice some irregularities. Oh, and to add to his troubles, Miller is involved in a fatal car accident, which he flees, leaving his dead mistress behind.

Yes, Miller has had the mother of all bad weeks, and it's to writer/director Nicholas Jarecki's credit that this all doesn't seem too ridiculous or extreme. While the saying is that "trouble comes in threes," when such circumstances occur in a piece of fiction, it can seem less than plausible. Yet Miller has a way of keeping the plot moving at such a quick pace that he doesn't allow the viewer to ponder the plausibility of it all as we're far more focused on whether Miller is going to escape unscathed or not.

That we harbor such desires is due to Gere's cool playing of an inherently unsympathetic role. Michael Douglas would have brought a smugness to the role that would have had us hoping he would end up with an extended stay at the Crossbar Hotel. Instead, Gere's charm, which has gotten as smooth and warm as a finely aged scotch, has us firmly on his side.

While we may not agree with much of anything he does, the actor's persona holds sway over the entire film. We don't see Miller as a cad but more of a sympathetic rogue, one who acknowledges his privilege with a good-natured shrug of the shoulders that says," Can you believe how good I have it?"

This is one of Gere's best performances and talk of an Oscar nomination for his effort is not off the mark.

I'm not sure we would be willing to follow Miller down the road he travels if the actor hadn't succeeded as he does.

To be sure, the film has its share of memorable supporting characters, among them Tim Roth as a dogged police detective intent on nailing Miller, and Sarandon who waits in the reeds before pouncing for her big moment at the end, while Jarecki's plot contains some wonderfully plausible and pleasant twists and turns.

Yet, you can't take your eyes off Gere who, like his character in the film, revels in being the straw that stirs the drink, resulting in a compelling and satisfying piece of movie magic.

 

'Arbitrage'

Cast: Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker, Stuart Margolin, Bruce Altman, Larry Pine and Tibor Feldman.

3 1/2 stars out of 4.

Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki; produced by Laura Bickford, Justin Nappi, Robert Salerno and Kevin Turen.

A Lionsgate release. 107 minutes. Rated R (language, brief violent images and drug use). At the Art Theater.

Also new in theaters

"Perks of Being a Wallflower" a sincere look at teen troubles. (3 1/2 stars out of 4)

While everyone was falling all over themselves praising the films of John Hughes for their keen insight on the plight of teenagers, I couldn't help but scoff at the "sincerity" found in "The Breakfast Club," "Pretty in Pink" and others of their ilk. I always felt that the cast and Hughes himself was commenting on the troubles of its teen characters rather than truly attempting to inhabit them. For me, these films were a sham, and it upset me that no one else was able to see through them.

One of the most refreshing things about Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is that it succeeds in delving into the troubles of its characters with a degree of empathy that makes it much more than just another movie about teen angst. The sympathy we feel for them is genuine, and while the problems they face could have been rendered as melodramatic in other hands, Chbosky, adapting his own novel, doesn't needlessly exaggerate the drama for effect.

At the film's center is Charlie (Logan Lerman), a withdrawn young man who enters high school while trying to deal with a tragedy that continues to haunt him. At first, feeling ostracized, he soon meets Sam and Patrick (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller), step-siblings dealing with their own trials who take Charlie under their wing.

On the surface, this appears to be a typical set-up for a film such as this, but there's such a subtlety to the way it's told and a distinctive quality in the way the characters are brought to life that you know you're witnessing something special. Chbosky slowly reveals just what Charlie's wrestling with, allowing us to get to see him, as well as Sam and Patrick, as fully realized characters who are far more than just the problems they're suffering from. We see that each has hopes, fears and needs as well as other people who love them, which allows us to become more emotionally invested in them.

Credit Lerman for not overplaying the angst and giving Charlie a pensive quality that has us pulling for him from the beginning. Equally impressive is Miller, whose Patrick is as far removed from his role of the young psychotic he played in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" as you can imagine. The young actor has range to spare, making me eager to see what he tackles next.

While these two impress, Watson virtually glows on screen and proves she'll have a career that will extend far past the "Harry Potter" films.

These three, as well as Chbosky's deft touch, ensure that "Wallflower" will far outlast less sincere efforts.

A member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Chuck Koplinski studied film at Chicago's Columbia College and has reviewed films for 20 years. For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow him on Twitter at chucksmoviepicks. He can also be reached at chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.

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