While Manohla Dargis’ review in the New York Times mostly names Richard Gere as the reason (she thinks) Arbitrage doesn’t work, but many believe the opposite is true. In fact, Gere is the perfect slick willy, providing not just someone who is adept at manipulating people to do what he needs them to do, but also manages to play the character as a human being and not a monster. I think that is what makes this performance, and the film, a standout.
In his four star review, Ebert writes:
We tend to identify with the leading character of a film, even if he is a heartless bastard. Few films illustrate this curiosity better than Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” and few actors might have been better at making it work thanRichard Gere. Here is man involved in a multimillion-dollar fraud, who cheats on his wife, tries to cover up the death of his mistress and would throw his own daughter under a bus. Yet we are tense with suspense while watching him try to get away with it.
Gere has always been an actor good at suggesting secrets under the surface. Improbably handsome, he has aged here into the embodiment of a Wall Street lion, worth billions, charming, generous, honored and a fraud right down to his bones. He plays Robert Miller, whose face must have beamed reassuringly from the covers of many magazines.
TIME mag’s Mary Pols:
But the main reason to see Arbitrage is Gere, whose steady improvement with age (he just turned 63) is not remarked upon enough. In recent years he starred in Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (so devastating it makes Old Yeller seem like a walk in the emotional park), the farcical political story The Hunting Party and The Hoax, a clever tale of literary lies and in the bad cop drama Brooklyn’s Finest. All were fine performances, but all received scant attention. (To be fair, in the same five year stretch Gere was also in the more high profile, and lousy, movies Amelia and Nights in Rodanthe.)
The beauty of his skillful Arbitrage performance lies in how uncompromising it is. You don’t like 1 percenter Robert Miller, even if you admire his ability to get things done, and enjoy, perversely, his oblivion to the 99 percent. “What’s an Applebee’s?” he says at one point, just as blithely as Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess says “What’s a weekend?” You’re not remotely on his side, the way you inevitably are when you’re watching, say George Clooney, but you want to stay by his side, both to watch every nasty little maneuver Robert employs to save his own skin and in the hopes that someone will trip him up. Gere is being talked about as an Oscar contender—he’s never been nominated. January is a long time off yet, but his name is certainly worth putting on the long list.
NPR’s Jeanette Catsoulis writes:
Even when a violent car accident causes Robert’s troubles to multiply and the film to drift uneasily into thriller territory, Jarecki holds steady, keeping his pacing attuned to Gere’s silver-fox composure.
It’s the kind of marvelously contained performance that made the actor so riveting in The Mothman Prophecies and so potent as the betrayed husband in Unfaithful. Always at his best in the eye of the storm, Gere excels at characters who gain our sympathy precisely because it would never occur to them to ask for it.