US, 2012, 107 minutes, Colour.
Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker, Stuart Margolin.
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki.
We might not be able to win an economics quiz accurately describing what arbitrage is, but it is a term which deals with competing bids and margins of profit (more or less). It is clearly a theme in this financial drama and thriller – it also serves as a metaphor for the behaviour of the central character, corporation high flyer, Robert Martin, concerning his life and risks as patriarch of his family (his word) and the interests and risks of his financial empire.
For most audiences, this will prove to be a fascinating drama of a man who has made major wrong decisions and is trapped when the circumstances he has created begin to unravel. He has told initial lies and they have disastrous consequences as they lead to other lies and other lies.
This is a Richard Gere film and he dominates it as he has for more than 35 years. He is Robert Miller, 60, one of those (until recently) seemingly unassailable lords of finance. The audience is quickly led into his dilemmas concerning selling his company, a false audit, his borrowing over four hundred million dollars from a colleague who wants it back while the potential buyer of his company avoids meeting him and delays the deal.
That in itself would make for an interesting film. However, while he appears as the devoted family man, has his family around him for his 60th birthday, including his loving wife (Susan Sarandon in a better role than she has had in recent years) and his daughter (a strong Britt Marling) who is also his business partner but does not know of her father’s troubles, he soon goes out to visit his mistress (Laetitia Castel), an artist whose show he is backing.
More disaster with a car crash. His leaving the scene of the crash and asking for help from the son of an old employee, lead from one deception to another, then another.
The combination of these two plots makes for intriguing watching. It is complicated for our emotional and moral response because of Richard Gere’s making Robert Miller quite seductively charming, even as he manipulates people, avoids detection and undermines his family unity. He presumes that he can do what he likes for as long as possible (despite some moments of thinking that he ought to surrender). Since his philosophy is that there are five things which matter in this world: M.O.N.E.Y., he presumes that it will solve all problems.
There are effective performances from Tim Roth as the detective who is determined to nab the billionaire and who abhors his type, from Nate Parker as the young man and driver who does not want to snitch but finds that he is trapped by the police, and from Stuart Margolin as Miller’s wily lawyer.
The film blends questions of morality, plausible arguments about how the truth might harm many others, and cynicism about how the captains of industry can walk unscathed through life
1. The title, the meaning, finances? The metaphor for Robert Miller’s life, his financial world, his family and marital world?
2. The background of American finance, the global downturn? Finance dramas and thrillers? Audiences identifying with Robert Miller or not – given Richard Gere’s screen presence and charm?
3. An affluent world, the business and the skyscrapers, the interiors of the offices? Limousines? Homes, lavish apartments? Art galleries? Restaurants? The contrast with Harlem and struggling families? The police precincts? Courts?
4. The strong cast, glamour, the production values? The musical score?
5. The portrait of Robert Miller, Richard Gere’s presence? Initial sympathy? Yet audiences being wary, in the plane, examining the documents, his assistants, his arrogance, yet his kindness, his theme of M.O.N.E.Y., the five important values in life? His failure with the deal, going to see Jeffrey? The accounts, the transfer of the millions? Time for repayment? Under pressure? This being enough to trouble Robert Miller?
6. The discovery of his double standards, the servants at home, giving the gifts, the cake for his birthday, turning sixty, with his family, his children, grandchildren, the relationship with Ellen? His leaving, his lie about the office, his going to see Julie? The relationship with Julie, her cake? Her tantrums, the preparation for the show, her art?
7. Timing, the auditors, the assistant, Brooke and her work? The documents and her concern? Mayfield and his not turning up for the meal? His associates and their stalling? The texting? Robert and his walking out, going to the show, buying the artwork? Visiting Julie, her being upset, his return? The impulsive decision to drive, the consequences, his drowsing, the crash?
8. His behaviour at the scene of the crime, the gruesomeness of Julie’s death, his own injuries, pushing the door out and escaping? Phoning Jimmy? Drawing on Jimmy’s obligations to him? His shrewdness with Jimmy? The pickup, his disappearing from the crime scene? The arguments with Jimmy, keeping the whole episode a secret? Getting into bed, Ellen and her remarks, his covering himself?
9. Coping, his wound, burning the clothes, the cut on his head? The servant seeing him? Lying to his wife? Going to work, the news of Julie’s death and his handling it? His assistant and his sympathy?
10. The police, Detective Bryer, his type, rough style, motivations, his skill as a detective? His collaboration with the other police and detectives? His discovery of the phone records? About Julie and his interrogating Robert, putting the pressures? The issue of the photos of the car and the numberplate on the bridge? Going to court, the Grand Jury? The judge, his anger about the fabricated photo? The attorney and his deal with Bryer? His anger?
11. Julie, her character, talent or lack of it, Robert’s support, the apartment, investing in her? Her moody character? Her mother coming for the funeral, her mother’s grief? Robert consoling the mother? His double-standard words?
12. Ellen, the long marriage, her life, going to the gym, supporting charities, the function and the cheque, her discussions with Brooke, her revealing that she was aware of the truth? Her avoiding Bryer?
13. Robert and his discussions with his lawyer, in the limousine? The advice, the lawyer and his help in the past, helping Jimmy’s father? Helping Jimmy in the present, hiring the best criminal lawyer, African American? The plan to get Jimmy out? Jimmy having to go before the Grand Jury? Robert and his shrewdness about the fabricated photo?
14. Jimmy, his girlfriend, his ill father, Robert’s support? The phone call, his going, the awkwardness, the attempt to pay him off? Bryer and his interrogations, the car, going to the precinct, meeting Robert at the restaurant, the issue of the trust and the money? The Grand Jury, his asserting that the photos were lies – and his being vindicated? His being saved? The decision to take the money or not – and his questioning himself that he took it?
15. Brooke, as Robert’s daughter, in the family, her relationship with her mother? At work, a partner, examining the documents and the accounts, seeing the discrepancies, firing the assistant and his telling her the truth? Confronting her father, legal issues, moral issues? With her father in the park, his trying to persuade her to be loyal? Her leaving? The discussions with her mother and not wanting to be disloyal to her father?
16. Robert, the auditors and their being able to cover the discrepancies? His accosting Mayfield in the restaurant, his anger? Playing hardball? Pretending to walk out, bargaining, the buying of his company, the discussion afterwards about the limits – and both gaining? Mayfield and the later questioning about the discrepancies and his overlooking them? Socialising with the Millers at the hospital benefit? Robert and his success, selling the business? Getting the deals for Brooke and his son to have employment?
17. The theme of patriarchy, Robert seeing himself as head of the family, his inconsistencies? Ellen and the build-up to the confrontation, her ultimatum, his resistance, doing it for family and appearances? Robert and his double-talk with Bryer, their discussions, the apartment and the search, Bryer reconstructing what actually happened?
18. The detective, his dubious methods with the photo, with the attorney, with the judge, losing?
19. The ending, the social, the speeches, the awards? The touch of the cynical, success and cover-up, morality – and avoiding hurting others, despite lack of integrity? Survival, reputation? Brooke’s description of her father – yet her look of disdain for him?
20. With the sudden ending at the benefit, what was the audience left with? Questions? Answers? Challenges?