Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Arbitrage (15)

This film had become something of a holy grail - every time I tried to see it, something got in the way, and with every obstacle the film took on greater importance.

Phone calls, traffic jams, Richard Parker's giant furball - it seemed the universe was testing me, teasing me, dangling Richard Gere in front of me like a carrot only for it to be snatched away by some berk suddenly deciding to look underneath a motorway bridge.

And with every challenge, I doubted if the film would live up to my ever-increasing expectations.

With every failed bid, Arbitrage became an even better film that I HAD to see.

A few more foul-ups, it'd have been up there with Citizen Kane before I'd even sat down. So, was it worth the wait? Did it live up to expectations?

Well, yes.

And no.

On the one hand, it's a brilliant thriller in which Richard Gere glides through effortlessly, making every scene about him and forcing you to like him while hating what his character is actually up to.

On the other, it's a cop flick where Tim Roth gets to pretend to be either Pacino or De Niro fighting against a system designed to save the rich guy - and stopping at nothing to get the guy who stops at nothing to get what he wants.

But I still loved it.

We've had a lot of films about the financial crisis since Wall Street spent all our money and then asked for a loan (Margin Call perhaps the best of the bunch), but this isn't a financial film even though it is set in that world.

What we have is a film about a man called Robert Miller. A man unaccustomed to failure, a man who doesn't understand it when things go wrong. And gone wrong they just have.

A business deal is unravelling fast, threatening to take down his company and with it his lifestyle, and he's just had a car crash in which he's killed his mistress.

And I thought I was having a bad day.

It's in the aftermath of the accident that the true nature of Miller is revealed - and in which Gere's brilliance is allowed to dance across the screen. You should hate Miller. You should be jealous of his life. You should be quietly glad that it's all going tits up - but you're not. You hate what he does to his wife (Susan Sarandon with another understated performance), you hate what he puts daughter Brooke (the wonderful Brit Marling) through, yet you can't help but root for him.

Even when he drags innocent people through his dirt, you hope he makes it through.

And this is what Gere does so well. You can tell when he's lying, you can tell when he's scared, but it's not flagged up with a full fanfare. His performance is so studiously measured you almost forget he's acting.

(A quick aside: I listened to Mark Kermode's review before seeing Arbitrage. Normally I try and watch the film first, but as we know things got in the way. As a result I became a bit fixated on Gere's blinking. Mark's not wrong...).

Gere is helped through his moral maze by people who understand his world and help it run smoothly. No one judges him. Details are met head on and problems are fixed as if they were nothing more than a dripping tap. And still you don't hate the guy.

By contrast, we have Roth. Now, I've been a fan of his since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I think he is a great screen presence.  Just not here.

That's not to say he's bad - he isn't. He just seems to be playing a caricature. Perhaps too many years cruising through Lie To Me are starting to take its toll. Which is a shame.

Because there's a comparison to be had between Miller and Roth's cop, Detective Michael Bryer. Both play by their own rules, and both are happy to do what ever it takes to get the result they need. Neither judges themselves by anyone's standards but their own.

Sadly, not enough is made of this, as Roth's character is operating in a different film - the gritty(ish) New York Cop flick, rather than the slick thriller Gere is orchestrating. It's to Gere's credit that Roth's performance is so willingly tolerated here (that's not to say it's bad, it's not. It just seems at odds with the rest of the movie).

Overall, Arbitrage was worth the wait. It's tense, fast-paced and gripping. Gere is on top form and the whole film just orbits around him wonderfully.

First time director Nicholas Jarecki may, at times, lose a bit of focus on what he's trying to achieve, but hell - if this is his starting point he's got one hell of a career ahead of him.

Now I'd better clear up that furball... 

No comments:

Post a Comment