There were also some other reasons to see the film, Susan Sarandon who seems to be everywhere I look just now would undoubtedly give her natural and charismatic performance, Nate Parker, Brit Marling and Laetitia Casta. Oh and I've forgotten the second biggest reason to see this film next to Gere, his adversary in the film, the ever great Tim Roth.
There's no doubt that the commentators were right, Richard Gere is fantastic in the film. He may have aged some more since we've last seen him but he hasn't lost his acting ability nor has he lost his on screen charm. Those traditional Gere mannerisms that some comment upon have been toned down somewhat but he's still the driving force and the main attention draw, and quite rightly so as he delivers a great deal of screen time and a good many powerful and emotional moments.
Tim Roth does well but I think it's fair to say that he is the one that falls hardest because of the script. He plays a cop that doesn't hit the normal convention as he is intelligent, sly, resourceful and somewhat political, far from the average policeman on television and film. However the ultimate decision he makes and the reasoning he gives afterwards are incredibly poor and seem to fly in the face of his character turning right back to those traditional police characters. It doesn't sit well that the policeman wants to bring him down just because he's rich and that, as he says himself, its time these rich people learned a lesson. It does seem out of sorts with the character they've built so far.
Susan Sarandon is good and rather surprising when her role comes to the fore as is Gere's wife. It really is a shame that she doesn't have more screen time but then the film isn't about her and what time she does have provides plenty to the film.
The young man played by Nate Parker also holds his own well especially alongside Richard Gere. Again he's another character that feels away from type and thankfully they keep him that way throughout.
The power of the film though lies with Gere's character and the growing problems he faces. Each lie brings him deeper and everything around him seems to get more complicated as time progresses. It's through this growing tide and Gere's performance that we feel the rising tension as the layers of complication are piled on or are revealed beneath the surface. You do feel very much that this man is drowning and continually scrabbling to save himself and the company but whenever he represents his company or offers a public face he presents a calm and controlling image. Something extra that I really liked about the presentation of his character is that he isn't shown just to be an evil businessman, he's given more depth and he does mention a number of time the amount of people that would be hurt by the crumbling of his business, the driving factor isn't just the immediate sale or his cash cut, but his family and the business as a whole.
Despite the strengths of his character the story does struggle to live up to what you expect. The tension keeps building to a point of delivery, a point that never seems to be reached. It's as though the film keeps pulling you back just before this point with the main character saving himself or being saved through some other plot device just at the last moment. While that can be a good device, building the tension, pulling it back, building it more and finally releasing it, that final release never seems to come. It did feel as though he had things under too much control and he never really was taxed or put in any great danger. I would have liked this control wrestled free a bit more in places.
Despite the performances, tension and suspense, early on it did feel as though it was going to follow conventional plot lines, and once the crash was over it pretty much did although the ending did provide for a few curves rather than twists.
When the police arrived with the additional evidence it did feel like it might move into different territory. Although we've seen this kind of plot line before we were being steered away from where the story had been taking us and it felt as though it belonged in a different film. The idea that these police, and in particular Roth's character, were willing to do what they did in order to capture the rich people made it feel like a much flatter character and a much lesser film than the one I thought we had been watching.
This thread became even more removed when the lawyers sit in the background and Gere's character seems to save the day for them, never mind that the main lawyer who has been mentioned in connection with various civil rights cases, doesn't even appear to believe his client or care. These can't be very good lawyers, haven't they watched The Good Wife?
I'm not entirely sure where the sympathies are supposed to lie in this film but they undoubtedly fell with Gere's character and I did find myself wondering why Sarandon's character was being so vicious particularly when referencing the family. It seemed strange that she would be so shocked by her husband's behaviour and how it made the family feel, especially when you can't imagine he's never been ruthless and unethical in business before to get them to where he is? It seemed a little naive in today's society.
I did keep wondering if there was something going to come of the injury that Gere's character was carrying but it never transpired and in the end we receive a rather flat ending for such a film but perhaps not for the reality of life. It's not such a bad ending despite what I first thought because all too often life is resolved behind the scenes, especially with the richer of society.
The film looks great though and with all the locations involved there are a lot of strong shots and lighting that keep the focus on the characters and the story. The accident itself feels a lot less Hollywood than I expected and the rest of the film looks and feels like a play adaptation, which is a good thing too.
It is difficult to decide on this film because it has so many strong points, especially in the casting, but the story doesn't live up to the high offerings of the rest of the film. It isn't bad though and it doesn't offer a flat thriller, there is tension and suspense and the story builds well. Still it won't be for all and it could have offered more than it did and ironed out some of the creases in the story and the characters.
Richard Gere is very good and isn't too Gere-esque, he still commands the screen and his performance is great to watch. I had high hopes for more from Tim Roth but I did feel he was stifled by the way his character was written and how he transpired in the end. Despite Susan Sarandon having such a short screen time when she got the role between her teeth she was really good and I would have loved to have seen more of her in that mode.
Looking back I wonder if the film could have played out any other way and if it had, would it have felt just like a standard thriller? Looking at the real life of high level businessmen we see that when they fall fowl of high bonuses and failing financial industries this is the way their stories seem to end, so maybe it is right.
Maybe the elements that work are the business ones and if the thriller and character elements were resolved the rest would feel much better and more impactful, maybe it's just a difficulty of portraying this type of character and that there really isn't a black and white to the story.
Whatever way it is Arbitrage is a strong thriller that does provide an engaging tale. It does have problems but the performance of Gere and his strong supporting cast it is worth going to see.