With the last couple of years in America serving for some as a way to number classes, whether it is the 47%, the 99% or what have you, it was only a matter of time before films used these mechanisms as a means of either launching or telling a story. The latest entry into this subgenre of films is Arbitrage, which has some familiar names in its cast, being directed by a not so familiar one.
The film is written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki in his feature film debut. The focus of the film is Robert Miller (Richard Gere, The Jackal), the manager of a wealthy hedge fund in New York. He has been married to a devoted woman in Ellen (Susan Sarandon, The Lovely Bones) for years, his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling, Another Earth) works next to him at the company, and life appears to be good. One night, an accident occurs and someone is killed, and Robert not only attempts to complete the sale of his company, but tries to avoid the ongoing investigation of the police detective involved (Tim Roth, Reservoir Dogs). Miller goes from living the life to repairing the cracks that may ultimately bring him and his company down.
From what I have read about the film, many people tend to label it as a thriller - even the blurb on the Blu-ray cases touts it as that, one "about love, loyalty and high finance" no less - but what I particularly enjoyed about Arbitrage are the effects that Robert's decisions have on so many people. At first they tend to resist, but as the film's events unfold they relent, and Robert cutting to the heart of their dilemma is intriguing to watch, especially during the scenes where Robert interacts with Jimmy, the son of a now-deceased former employee of his. There is a level of connection the two share, and while we do not see the full extent, it is certainly appreciated here.
This is in no small part to Gere's performance, which harkens back to some of his earliest work where he would ooze some of the same confidence at times and possess some fiery flashes of anger in others. While Sarandon and Marling do well in their supporting roles, they are not on screen combined for the time that Gere is, and Gere does a tremendous job in the role. Robert gradually becomes a guy who (if you didn't coming into the film) you wind up disliking because of his belief that everybody has their price, but the cracks in his armor make him all the more sympathetic, which may be a sign of the viewer more than it is the subject, yes?
While many may choose to paint Arbitrage with a certain kind of brush, I would recommend that people disregard it and choose to view it on its own merits, and be summarily impressed from there. Sure, equating the film to a hypothetical Romney administration may be nice, but it is ultimately lazy and moreover, a bit of an injustice to the performance of its lead and supporting actors. Regardless of income level, it is a very good film on what it chooses to do for itself.
Lionsgate rolls Arbitrage out with a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, using the AVC codec. I can't say much about the presentation blew me away, but it was fine nevertheless. Black levels are strong through much of the feature, though they tend to lack a deep nature to them. Flesh tones appear natural and without concern, and the color palette is reproduced accurately, muted as said palette may be. Little to no DNR is evident, but the image tends to lack any real detail in many sequences. It is certainly a solid looking film on Blu-ray, though hardly anything that wows.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround rules the day, and it is a better than expected track. Dialogue sounds clear throughout the feature, and the subwoofer is far more active than I was expecting coming into this. Ambient noise and other directional effects are present in the rear channels and sound clear and effective (from environmental sounds outdoors to an audience applauding Robert at a banquet), and channel panning is just as prevalent. While the film may not have material worthy of a demo track, Lionsgate does well by the film technically.
Jarecki provides a commentary for the film that is both informative and active throughout. In it, we learned that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was indicted in a location that the crew shot in the day before, and we learn Jarecki has superb production recollection, be it from securing the cast and crew (the anecdote for composer Cliff Martinez is a good one), but we learn his origins to becoming a director and his inspirations from other films, including some he pulled film from, to realize this production. He gets into scene breakdown, the film vs. digital debate and other topics, and while there is a tendency for him to narrate the action, it's forgivable considering the quality of the track, which is solid. "A Glimpse Into Arbitrage" (12:22) shows us the film and everyone's thoughts on the cast, while "Who Is Robert Miller" (7:02) includes the cast and crew trying to answer this question. Six deleted scenes (10:08) include more of Robert and/or Jimmy. Save for some trailers of other Lionsgate films, that about does it.
While people may want to put more meaning into Arbitrage than it should, on its own I think there is a fairly decent movie telling a story, with a lead actor who turns in quite the underrated turn, from a writer/director with the potential to follow in the mold of other New York directors like Lumet. Technically it is a solid disc and from a bonus materials perspective, the commentary is superb and one of the better ones in recent memory. Definitely a solid rental with a higher potential than some other recent releases on the market.