It’s said that money can’t buy happiness. But when Robert Miller, the filthy-rich hedge funder played by Richard Gere in September’s Arbitrage, is delivered, by way of private plane and Town Car, to his Upper East Side manse just in time for his picture-perfect family to toast his 60th birthday, it’s hard to believe that adage is true. As viewers will soon learn, and as Miller himself must already suspect, his very costly contentment is about to run its course.
Arbitrage, the first narrative film from director Nicholas Jarecki (who wrote 2008’s The Informers and directed the 2005 documentary The Outsider), follows Miller through what must be the most trying week of his charmed life. He’s attempting to unload his fund before anyone notices the books are cooked and juggle his socialite wife (Susan Sarandon) and hot-tempered mistress (Laetitia Casta), an up-and-coming French artist whose work is sold mostly to Miller. The money problem is intensified by the digging around of Miller’s daughter and employee (Ivanka Trump ringer Brit Marling) and the mistress problem by a car crash that would make Myrtle Wilson herself wince. When Miller calls in a favor from the son of a former employee—a drug offender whose devotion to Miller is never quite assured—it only serves to spread around the guilt.
This is a world that Jarecki, the son of renowned trader, MovieFone founder and Yale professor Henry Jarecki, is intimately familiar with, but he manages to approach it with an outsider’s fascination.
“I knew this world because my parents were in it,” says Jarecki, who attended the elite Upper West Side private school Collegiate and whose family owns the private island of Guana in the British Virgin Islands.
Although he’s now based in Los Angeles, Jarecki notes, “I grew up in New York City and saw it every day in front of me. There’s a lot of power; there’s a lot of information. And it has a dark side.”
That’s more than apparent as Miller and his gang of high-class henchmen do their best to fudge documents and cover his tracks, while audiences are led on a chauffeur-driven trip through the all-too-familiar world of a master whoseuniverseiscrumbling.
“I like to be with a character you don’t know quite how you feel about, someone who challenges you,” says Jarecki. “I wasn’t interested in doing a movie about Madoff, so I thought of a guy who’s good but has gone wrong, who has started to think he’s invincible.” Miller believes that if everyone will just do his bidding, he’ll get off scot-free. That’s exactly the dynamic that keeps Arbitrage exciting. He’s a dirty, arrogant liar, sure, but after a lifetime of wheel greasing, is he one who can slip right off the hook?
“I tried to think about how I could put Robert Miller in a predicament where we could see him faced with a real crisis,” the director says. “Would he give up power to hang onto his last shred of humanity? It felt like a modern theme, something that was old but still current.”
That gray area is just what makes the film compelling, says Brit Marling, who has a degree in economics and was a Goldman Sachs intern before turning down a full-time job to focus on a career in Hollywood.
Considering her thoughts on Miller’s world, it’s probably a good thing she left the financial sector. “How we live right now—we’re obsessed with obtaining minor results along the way instead of focusing on the bigger picture,” the actress says. “The culture has just become unsatisfied; we have insatiable appetites that just want more. More is the engine that drives everything forward.”
In part, she found Jarecki’s movie appealing because it doesn’t condemn Miller’s lifestyle so much as probe it.
“It’s not glamorizing that world, it’s letting you inside in a way that shows all of the different sides and humanity that’s at the center of it,” she says. “I like that the movie doesn’t land on easy answers.”
What it does land on is the sort of smart look at the haut monde—with notes of Six Degrees of Separation and even The Great Gatsby— that’s neither fawning nor sensationalized. It’s a gripping thriller that asks just how much we’re willing to give up to have it all.
Photo: Myles Aronowitz