Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 15, 2012 12:14 pm 
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Tense action, loose morals

First let's sort out the Jarecki boys. Andrew, who co-founded Movietone and made the controversial 2003 Capturing the Friedmans, was born in 1963; the others' birthdates are a bit hard to find; but they seem to be younger. Andrew is also a composer. In 2010 he brought out the interesting but under-the-radar feature All Good Things, starring Frank Langella, Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. Eugene is well known for a series of muckraking documentaries including Why We Fight, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Reagan, and Freakanomics. He has a powerful one coming out soon about the US prison system called The House We Live In. NIcholas (now 33) published a book about directors in 2001, then a documentary about James Toback, The Outsider in 2005; and now the "white-collar white-knuckler" Arbitrage starring Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Susan Sararandon, Brit Marling and Nate Costa, with support from Chris Eigeman, Laetitia Casta and Graydon Carter.

Apropos of Arbitrage, the tale of hedge fund magnate Robert Miller (Gere), who gets into big trouble personally and financially and seeks to extricate himself without too much collateral damage to family and firm not to mention avoiding serious jail time, it might be worthwhile to know about another brother, Thomas, a financial executive. And it turns out the four brothers' father, Dr. Henry George Jarecki, MD, born in Germany, was not only a shrink but a big-time financier, a pioneer in the computerization of the commodities markets, and is involved in a cluster of philanthropic organizations. So Nicholas, who wrote his own screenplay, knew whereof he spoke through family channels -- like J.C. Chandor, whose Margin Call, last year, was an elegant retelling of the demise of Lehman Brothers, with the names changed to protect the guilty, as it were. Chandor too apparently had a father involved in Wall Street. Henry Jarecki, who owns two of the Virgin Islands and recently purchases a historic mansion in Manhattan, has a CV that sounds a lot lke Robert Miller's -- let's hope though without the dark personal secrets and fraudulent accounting practices. But you wonder, given the way Miller gets away with both private and corporate crime here without any punishment built into Nicholas Jarecki's script.

In fact though Nicholas Jarecki's movie is, as AV Club's Noel Murray said, a Wall Street "white-knuckler," it wavers between police procedural, Law and Order crime story, and a study of money bending morality. It juggles all these without quite coming out anywhere. But it contains a lot of scenes with well-written dialogue that the actors, led with style by Gere, handle beautifully, and the financial complications and the terrible personal fix Robert Miller gets into are convincingly enough detailed to provide a supporting structure for the emotional moments. Several scenes between Gere and and Nate Costa seem to fumble a little. Miller has used Jimmy Grant (Costa), a young black man to get himself out of a terrible fix and resultingly gets Jimmy in a bad fix too. Tim Roth is the police detective who uses dubious means to try to get at the financier. Gere's film daughter, Brit Marling, a manager of the firm who detects fiddling with the books, has a great scene with Gere in the park where she attacks and he defends. The best scenes feature people yelling at each other, and though Sarandon's role as Gere's wife is underwritten, they have a good loud angry shouting match just before the finale. The ending is one of muted irony. Gere's character seems to have pulled it all off -- if his wife lets him. Family life doesn't look like it's going to be too warm for a while. But that's not much punishment. Is that the way we are now? (Come to think of it, brother Andrews All Good Things is a true story about the scion of a rich family who gets away with murder.) This time (apparently Pacino was considered, which would have been very different) hiring Gere loaded the dice heavily in favor of the protagonist to begin with.

The reason I can't rate this nearly as high as Margin Call is not only that it doesn't take on as complex or high stakes an event or as significant a range of financial market material, but that it doesn't dig deep enough into the lives and relationships of the people involved -- not as deep as brother Andrew's All Good Things, which looks at money, power, and families too, with a twisted reality behind the strange story it unfolds (Andrew did not attempt to write his own script). However I'd have to agree with Noel Murray that even though Arbitrage's screenplay is much too conventional, Nicholas Jarecki "doesn’t need to make his authorial presence known" with the likes of Richard Gere, Tim Roth, and Susan Sarandon and the other cast members, including Whit Stillman regular Chris Eigeman, all in such good form. And this is a slick, remarkably well made and watchable first film, whatever the softness of its moral position.

Arbitrage debuted at Sundance in January and opened theatrically (and VOD) in the US September 14, 2012. Distributed by Lionsgate/Roadside.

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