Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Arbitrage

An early entry in the Oscar race, Arbitrage is the story of a high finance dude who gets himself into a bit of a pickle. This makes an interesting comparison to last year's Margin Call which was also heralded as an early Oscar possibility. (It received one—undeserved—nomination for writing.)

All the usual pitfalls and caveats apply: Do we have here a movie about high finance written by people who don't know anything about high finance and created by people who are antagonistic to it, at least outside of what their own portfolios and money managers do for them?

Well, not exactly.

Much like Margin Call, the financial details are murky at best. Some of the buzz referenced a Vanity Fair article, which I presume was more elaborate, because this plot boils down to high finance dude embezzling—wait, I think since Corzine, we call it misplacing—$412 million, and trying to secure a deal that will cover it up before anyone discovers it.

Topical! 

This movie throws in a little crime drama and family sub-plot to boot, which is a mixed bag.

The crime drama part woke me up after the setup had kind of put me to sleep, steeped in cliché as it was. It gives the proceedings a needed urgency that at its best is Hitchcockian. The family drama—well, that doesn't work as well. The crime drama plot resolves first and the family drama remains, but it hasn't been developed well enough to have much of an impact. It's not bad, just detached.

Overall, though, the movie works, mostly due to a mostly tight plot. You don't really know how it's gonna play out, and that holds interest.

It's getting a lot of praise for the acting, so I should probably talk about that.

High-finance dude is played by Richard Gere and he's getting praised up-and-down for it. But. It doesn't work for me. Gere is too affable and way too mellow. The guys I've known in high finance are more like the intense, brooding King of Versailles.

And almost the whole cast, acting-wise felt a little off. Not bad, exactly. Just not quite fitting the roles. From Gere's laid-back-yet-uber-powerful-finance-guy to Tim Roth's police detective, it didn't feel like a cohesive ensemble of people inhabiting their roles.

Susan Sarandon is the airhead (or is she?) wife, Britt Marling is the super-smart financially savvy daughter, Laetitia Casta is the sexy artiste and Nate Parker is the faithful friend. Actually, Stuart Margolin, staple of '70s shows like "Love American Style" and "The Rockford Files", was probably my favorite player.

It was pretty good. The Boy enjoyed it okay. I wouldn't put it front runner for Oscars, but they don't ask me.

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