The great thing about Arbitrage is that writer-director Nicholas Jarecki never gives in to what must have been a temptation to surrender his theme to Hollywood melodrama. Arbitrage begins and ends as a story of how one moral failure leads to another one and how one person’s weakness involves other people, one man’s guilt makes other people act guiltily, too, without going beyond what ordinary people with understandable motives might do, under the circumstances.
Richard Gere is a big money man with a hedge fund firm - and don’t worry, you don’t have to know about the financial world, Jarecki makes things clear enough even for me, though I advise you to pay more attention to the Mayfield story than I did – and he has been cooking the books and misappropriating money till his affairs have reached the precipitous point where everything has to go right or everything will inevitably go wrong.
What goes wrong is irrelevant to the business world, but threatens Gere with prison, his business with ruin, his marriage with dissolution, a young black man who is trying to amend his life with a return to prison, Gere’s daughter with a nasty decision involving her own moral standards, and nobody anything good. You can’t help thinking that the best solution all around would be for Gere to solve his problems and go on as he has done before, which involves you in the general whirlpool of guilt, too.
I’m not going to even hint at how things are worked out, because among a lot of other things Arbitrage offers the kind of curiosity and suspense a good thriller offers, with a good deal more credibility than most thrillers do. By the end, nobody is entirely free of guilt, but nobody is villainous or out of character. And I don’t have time for how very good the characterizations are.