Movie review: Arbitrage

There’s always a faint whiff of hypocrisy when Hollywood’s millionaires gather to make a movie about the pernicious evil that is money, but Arbitrage (15A) works hard to earn itself the right to a fair hearing.

Richard Gere stars as successful hedge fund guru Robert Miller, devoted husband of Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and doting father of his company’s investment manager, Brooke (Brit Marling). The suave businessman has a number of secrets to hide, not least his affair with young French artist Julie (Laetitia Casta), although the money-obsessed Robert is far more exercised by the fact that his company is going broke just as it is about to secure a lucrative merger. Once he has established all of his characters, writer-director Nicholas Jarecki then catapults Miller into a nightmarish scenario courtesy of a fatal car accident, and the story turns into a pacy thriller with a moral conundrum. Gere turns in an impressively nuanced performance as Miller, a man who appears to be emotionally disconnected from his actions and their consequences. The very human pressures brought to bear on Miller by Julie, Ellen, Brooke and eventually Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) take their toll on his self-created myth of indomitable perseverance. It’s difficult to empathise with Miller, and yet Gere’s performance is such that it’s also very hard not to sympathise with his plight. Roth, Marling and Sarandon provide strong support, and Jarecki’s script takes a number of pleasingly unexpected twists and turns as it drives on towards its poignant climax.

There’s something quaintly old-fashioned about Broken City (15A), a contemporary PI story starring Mark Wahlberg as disgraced cop Billy Taggart. Drummed out of the NYPD for cold-bloodedly shooting dead a suspected killer-rapist seven years previously, Taggart now operates as a private investigator. Taggart may have seen it all, but even he’s surprised when Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), in the throes of a re-election campaign, commissions him to spy on his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom Hostetler suspects of having an affair. Taggart quickly finds himself sucked into the world of dirty politics, where double- and treble-crosses are the order of the day. Crowe is at times hilariously over the top, but Wahlberg neatly underplays his cynical, mouthy PI, while Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper and Kyle Chandler all contribute important minor roles — but the story appears to proceed in a surprisingly sluggish and predictable fashion. The fault lies less with Allen Hughes’ direction, and more with Brian Tucker’s script, which appears to be more interested in ticking the boxes of the classic noir tale than it does in bringing anything fresh to the conventions of the genre. It’s a solid PI thriller, but the set-up and the stellar cast deserved a little more invention.

Stoker (18s) stars Mia Wasikowska as 18-year-old India Stoker, who meets her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) for the first time on the day of her father’s funeral. The self-possessed India is surprised to find herself disorientated by Charlie’s presence, although his tales of globe-trotting appear to mesmerise her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Korean director Chan-wook Park is best known for his ‘Vengeance’ trilogy, which included the hardboiled classic Oldboy (2003), but this film appears to be developing into a conventional Southern Gothic tale of repressed sexual secrets until the story takes a rather surprising twist, one which suggests that Park is again dabbling in the supernatural. What transpires is a pleasingly ambiguous tale of immoral behaviour, although it’s clear from the highly stylised performances from Wasikowska and Goode that Park is to a certain extent poking fun at the Southern Gothic’s tropes, not least the conflation of sexual desire and violent death. Indeed, the scene that makes explicit the motif is so unexpectedly preposterous that it’s hard to know whether to laugh or be shocked. Trapped between Goode and Wasikowska, Kidman comes off as rather stiff and uninspired. Beautifully framed and shot the film grows progressively less plausible with every twist, until it eventually winds up looking and sounding like a clumsy parody rather than a homage.

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