Saturday, September 15, 2012

'Arbitrage' director Nicholas Jarecki says his new movie is a financier's view ... - Philadelphia Daily News

THE CHARACTER that Richard Gere plays in "Arbitrage" has been described as a Bernie Madoff-like figure, but that's way too flattering to the disgraced Ponzi operator.

First, in the looks department, we can safely assert that bulging Bernie is no Richard Gere. Second, the character that Gere plays is a financier who gets caught on the wrong side of a bad deal, not a sociopath who remorselessly and systematically rips people off.

Director Nicholas Jarecki said that when he set out to write something about the inner workings of high finance, he avoided anything that smacked of Madoff.

"It's too limited. Madoff is a sociopath, and the sociopath is boring after two minutes. We get it: You don't really give a [fig] about anything," said Jarecki.

Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge-fund legend trying to sell a large stake in his firm in order to paper over some crooked accounting. The deal is shaky, threatening everything he's worked hard to build, including the reputation of his family-run business, which has implications for his wife (Susan Sarandon) and daughter (Brit Marling).

"Arbitrage" is told from Miller's point of view, and Jarecki said it was important to find the humanity in the character.

"You need to give people a conflicted human being. How much do I love my family? How much do I love my money and power? What do I do when those things stand opposed to each other?"

Gere picked up on it right away, said Jarecki. When he researched the role, he did very little investigation into high finance, but talked extensively to Wall Street executives about their families.

It was Gere, said Jarecki, who made the project happen.

"This was a $250,000 movie that I was basically making in my apartment. When Richard saw the script, and became interested, it became possible to put the money together, to attract people like Susan and Tim [Roth]," Jarecki said. Roth plays a New York police detective who suspects Gere committed a crime.

If Jarecki was determined to make Miller's Wall Street-"type" a fully dimensional human being, it may because he grew up in a Wall Street home. His father and mother were both traders.

"My dad used to sell a type of commodity contract. It was so complicated he was certain his sales people didn't understand what they were selling. But it's not always about what's being sold. A lot of it is relationship-driven," he said.

On the other hand, he's not so empathetic that he isn't outraged by the scandals that rocked the financial world during the meltdown, and have continued almost unabated.

"Three years ago was like the perfect storm. The housing market collapse, the economy in free fall, Madoff unearthed, you had faith shaken in a fundamental way. It was in the papers everyday, and people were angry, and they had a right to be. Now, it's funny, I think we're in the 2.0 version, and yet the public reaction is much less pronounced. 'Oh, they're fixing the LIBOR rate? Oh well, big surprise.' My own reaction is 'WHAT?! You were fixing the borrowing rate across the world. You were price-fixing!' It's nuts."

Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or Read his blog at

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