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Arbitrage – rooting for the bad guy


“Arbitrage” is a Hollywood thriller about a billionaire hedge fund manager who’s teetering on the brink of collapse. The trick of this movie is that, despite his having no one to blame but himself for his impending misfortune, we find ourselves rooting for him, against our better judgment.

Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, a Wall Street tycoon who’s seemingly on top of the world. As the head of a venture capital empire, he’s about to cash in on his life’s work – selling his company to a multi-national bank.

But he’s beginning to sweat. The bank is suddenly balking at the purchase. It’s delaying the buy in order to wrangle a better price out of Miller. Ordinarily, this is the kind of battle Miller relishes, but it comes at an inopportune time. It turns out he’s hidden a $400 million debt from his investors and he needs this sale to recoup his losses. In the real world, that’s called fraud.

Paralleling his financial woes are his personal woes, and those too are brought on by himself alone. He’s got a loving wife and a couple of happy successful adult children but he’s also cheating on her/them with a demanding French mistress. When something tragic happens and he’s responsible, he tries to cover it up just like he does his financial crimes.

Tensions naturally mount. The noose is tightening around both his financial neck and his legal neck as investigations on both fronts kick into high gear.

These two separate worlds then merge into one hellacious family problem, when his wife, Susan Sarandon, realizes their own daughter, who is his Chief Financial Officer, could also be dragged down by his shenanigans.

In a lot of ways, what happens in this movie is overly familiar but what saves it is the clever way in which the filmmaker, Nicholas Jarecki, uses the suspense genre to get the audience to actually hope he gets away with his crimes.

Miller is an utter fraud of a man who gets what he wants through charm, daring and, of course, money. And by having the audience inadvertently root for him, the film makes us all somewhat complicit in his crimes.

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