From the get-go, Robert Miller (Richard Gere) looks like the newest model from the Gordon Gekko mold. One by one, Arbitrage presents the identifying traits: First comes Miller’s sharply tailored gray suit, then the young trophy mistress and, most crucially, the egregious fraud that hedge-fund manager Miller has been perpetuating. The similarities stop there, because helmer Nicholas Jarecki wisely takes this psychological drama elsewhere. Traces of Hollywood’s typically moralistic formula remain — greed is still bad, and hubris is Miller’s Achilles’ heel. What makes Arbitrage feel novel is the movie’s nonjudgmental take on its protagonist’s misdeeds.
As Miller’s wrongdoings pile up, he never stops to squirm. Lying handily to his wife (an under-utilized Susan Sarandon) poses no problem. Neither does risking the future of his unwitting daughter (Brit Marling) with Madoff-style deception. The only hint of remorse comes when the financier drives his paramour into a lethal car wreck, but it quickly fades as Miller decides to cover up the accident. Jarecki’s slick script keeps Miller’s intertwined dramas — fiscal, financial and fatal — in check as pressure continues to build. Meanwhile, Gere’s charisma is on full display, making his character remarkably difficult to root against. Since Gere’s stolid expression betrays no inner anxiety and the script never pauses for reflection, the audience becomes increasingly complicit in Miller’s immoral crimes. The resulting discomfort is what gives this thriller a pleasantly energizing pulse.