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Rich man's burden

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Arbitrage' packed with unsympathetic characters

Hollywood loves movies about rich guys, and with the current economic climate emphasizing the disconnect between the ultra-rich and the rest of us, it's no surprise that we're currently seeing a spate of these types of films. The latest offering in this vein is 'Arbitrage,' starring Richard Gere.

With the possible exception of Michael Douglas, nobody plays a rich guy quite like Gere. So it should come as no surprise that this high-finance thriller features the blandly handsome and generally inoffensive Gere in the driver's seat. My favorite recent line about Gere called him 'one of those actors who seems underrated yet never is in anything good.'

In 'Arbitrage,' Robert Miller (Gere, 'The Double') is the manager of a multi-million dollar hedge fund; he's the darling of the financial sector, appearing on CNBC and the cover of 'Forbes.' He's got his loving wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon, 'That's My Boy') and financial whiz-kid daughter Brooke (Brit Marling, 'Another Earth'). He also has a mistress, a French art buyer in his employ named Julie (Laetitia Casta, 'The Island').

Miller has just turned 60; he's on the verge of selling his company in a major merger. But all is not as it seems. Miller is leveraged to the hilt, having taken a massive short-term loan ($400 million) to hide an investment shortfall. He needs this sale to go through just to avoid disgrace, financial ruin and possibly prison.

In the midst of all of this, Miller finds himself in the middle of a bloody accident an accident he simply can't afford to let become public. So he calls Jimmie (Nate Parker, 'Red Tails'), the son of his former driver, for help.

Before long, Miller's life is falling apart. He is being relentlessly pursued by a suspicious detective named Mike Bryer (Tim Roth, TV's 'Lie to Me') who is dogged in his determination to nail Miller for this suspected crime so dogged, in fact, that he may prove willing to bend the rules in order to get him.

There's a lot to like here. Richard Gere is at his Richard Gere-iest when he plays rich guys; he's totally in his element in this film. Sarandon is her usual solid self, while Roth is aggressively off-putting in an engaging way. Parker and Marling both do some good work as well.

It's not like this film is breaking any new ground, but it's a reasonably well-paced and interesting take on some old tropes the power of money, the flexible morality of the elite, career over family, etc.

Still, 'Arbitrage' doesn't really work. By all accounts, it's a decent movie. The pieces would seem to be there. Unfortunately, the film suffers from the fact that there is no one for whom to root. Every single character makes choices that ethically and/or morally compromise them. They all say and do things that make it difficult to achieve any sympathetic resonance. That ambiguity might be OK if the tone of the film was different, but for a movie that seems to want to be a morality tale, it doesn't really work.

It's too bad; this movie feels like it just missed being very good. Instead, we get a film that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. 'Arbitrage' is essentially a story about the dichotomy of good and bad, only they forgot to give equal time to the good.

3 out of 5

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