We know who and what Robert Miller is the moment Richard Gere brings the character into the frame in the new thriller Arbitrage.
He's a player, a business titan, a guy for whom the rules of the normal world don't apply.
He has his own high-end hedge-fund firm, his prominent place within New York society, a socially prominent wife (Susan Sarandon) and a daughter (Brit Marling) who will inherit the business.
He's also living the limo life on the back of shady bookkeeping, and keeping an art dilettante as a mistress. Because he can.
Tom Wolfe famously labeled them "Masters of the Universe," the Wall Street gamblers whose sense of invincibility, entitlement and general recklessness brought the world's economy to ruin a few years back. But Gere's Miller becomes more than a "type" the moment he wrecks the car with the mistress in it, and then runs away.
There's a crime to cover up as he struggles to keep the balls he's juggling in the air.
First-time writer-director Nicholas Jarecki (he adapted the Bret Easton Ellis novel The Informers for the screen) builds an elaborate, interconnected world for Miller to duck and weave through.
Then, there's the one person Miller calls for help in the dead of night. Nate Parker plays the outsider, the young black man with a police record whom Miller knows, for reasons that only become clear later. He thinks this guy will be discrete.
And with a cop (Tim Roth) sniffing around the charred remains of the mistress's car, discretion and a sneaky lawyer ( Rockford Files vet Stuart Margolin) are paramount in Miller's mind.
There's so much to keep track of that Jarecki robs his film of some of its punch, even as he is slowly, carefully revealing his cards. But he cast this so perfectly that we can't help but be riveted.
The ongoing police investigation seems an afterthought, a chance for Roth to do his version of the abrasive, get-his-man-no-matter-what-or-how cop. Still, Roth plays the heck out of his character's moral outrage.
Arbitrage doesn't preach, and lives in a greater world of subtexts than the more overtly messaged, more narrowly focused and more entertaining Margin Call. But it's still an engrossing character portrait and a sober take on the culture's current favorite villains.
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