The Best Actor race is getting crowded this week, with Tommy Lee Jones in Hope Springs and now, Richard Gere in Arbitrage. The timely pic is a chilling illustration of the way powerful people use other people to get what they want out of life and usually win. The screenplay is flawless; no character gets the short shrift. Every line crackles with Mamet-like intensity. It will surely be among the best original screenplays this year.
The film feels particularly poignant now, with an election that is positioning the rich against the middle class. In Arbitrage, integrity — laid squarely on the antihero (Richard Gere) — is conquered by the better game. Because the script is played out like a chess game, every move is deliberate. I love movies like this because I know that a couple more viewings will reveal patterns I missed the first time.
Writer/Director Nicholas Jarecki has mastered the golden rule of showing, not telling, when it comes to revealing the motivations of the characters in the film. Those who have a moral center must eventually suffer from one man’s thirst for power. It isn’t that Gere’s character is bad guy, particularly, but he plays the rotten game the way it needs to be played in order for him to come out on top. He appears to have a conscience and yet he must act in conflict with it. Gere pulls this off beautifully, so much so that we are never really sure who or what he is.
Nearly stealing the show from Gere is newcomer Nate Parker as Jimmy. Parker has simmering charisma and is another character who takes a while to get to know. Jarecki has layered each of them with a backstory, enough so that you know them, even down to the throwaway role of the judge. But the dynamic between Parker and Gere is really what drives this film. Sarandon and Brit Marling (as Gere’s daughter) are also pivotal, memorable characters.
Gere is on fire — walking the fine line between desperation and total control, he seems to embody the power elite on Wall Street. 90% successful, 10% on the brink of disaster. Of course he’ll get away with murder, practically, but this movie is about the 10%. By the end of the film, it feels like vertigo — you’ve just gone too high with someone who has no idea that there even are limits to corruption. All that matters in his world is that he gets away with it.
Hopefully Jarecki is going to be around for a while — he joins Behn Zeitlin, J.C. Chandor and Lena Dunham as the most promising young filmmakers of their generation so far. Keep those doors open, Hollywood. This is the kind of talent we need to foster.