Arbitrage (2012)

PG. Our ratings: V -3; L -1; S/N -1. Running time: 1 hour 47 min.

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place
of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place
of righteousness, wickedness was there as well.

The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.
Ecclesiastes 3:16 & 5.10

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
1 Timothy 6.10

This is not your tupical a boy and his dog.story.

2012 Walt Disney Studios

This film is so well put together and boasts such a great cast that it is hard to believe that this is writer/director Nicholas Jarecki’s first feature-film. Actor Richard Gere has never been better than in his role as Wall Street high roller Robert Miller. This hedge fund magnate is smoother than the financial shark Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas, but when the fate of his financial empire is at stake, he is far more ruthless, even willing to throw under the bus his wife, his daughter, and a friend who has saved his neck when he is backed into a corner.

Miller is a hedge-fund magnate trying to sell off his company to another magnate, and he is sweating over the buyer’s delay in finishing the deal. Miller is worried because he has fixed the books to cover up a $412 million shortfall due to a bad mining investment that went sour. He has temporarily plugged the hole by taking out a short-term loan from another high roller. Only now the guy needs his money, so he is hounding Miller for it.

Miller, one of the 1% we have been hearing about, has a trophy wife and a mistress. Susan Sarandon plays wife Ellen, who knows of his philandering, but loves the perks of the rich life to confront him. Laetitia Casta is his French mistress Julie, whom he has bankrolled so she can set up an art gallery. Brit Marling is his adoring daughter Brooke, who serves in his company as CFO. She has been looking over the books in preparation for the closing of the deal, and she is uneasy because something does not look right.

When one of the three women in his life dies in the car he is driving, things begin to spin out of control. Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of his former black chauffeur comes to his aid so he can cover up his role in the accident, but just when he thinks he is in the clear, NYPD detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) comes calling. Despite Miller’s smooth denials, the detective will not go away. Just what the tycoon needs, a scandal to spoil his lucrative deal and stay out of financial trouble and jail.

The filmmaker does not judge Miller, but lets us see his ruthless dealings so that we can make our own assessment of him. Because of the actor playing him, and also because viewers usually side with the main character of a movie, we find ourselves rooting for the creep, even though (I hope) we deplore what he is doing. It is very much like the Martin Landau character in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Whereas this film is nowhere as deep theologically as Allen’s film, it is well worth seeing—and serves as a good midrash for the above Biblical passages.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think of the financial practice known as arbitrage in which a financier seeks to make a profit by playing both sides of a deal?

2. How does the film bear out the Ecclesiastes passage? Why do you think that money lovers will never be satisfied? How is our culture/economy designed to make us dissatisfied?

3. Compare Miller with Bernie Madoff’.

4. How did you feel about the way in which the film concludes? Do you see God at work in any of the shenanigans?