Photo by Stephen Speckman
The word “arbitrage” is often used in the cutthroat world of high finance, defining the practice of buying low and selling high (and hopefully getting filthy rich in the process). It’s the founding principle of capitalism, and the force many believe to be behind the greed attributed to America’s current financial crisis.
In Nicholas Jarecki’s directorial debut, Arbitrage, the definition of the word is more nebulous. For this film’s purposes, ‘arbitrage’ encompasses the ability to define the value of something or someone; and the subsequent process of ascertaining the possible risks and rewards associated with that “investment.” In billionaire hedge fund genius Robert Miller (Richard Gere), we see the personification of both ideals, oftentimes one struggling for supremacy over the other, especially when a life-changing accident forces him to reevaluate what it is he truly values––his family or the ill gotten riches that support it.
Jarecki’s film is on the one hand a classic noir thriller and on the other a careful examination of one man’s identity. Gere brings a determined focus to the role(s) of Miller––charismatic and caring one moment, cutthroat and conniving the next. An outstanding cast, which includes Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth, Laetitia Castafor, and Nate Parker, brings powerful depth and dimension to a story that requires careful consideration to succeed––much like any investment.
The film premiered on Day Three of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. After the screening, Jarecki and Gere were joined by actors Marling, Parker, and Casta for for the following Q&A.
Tell us about the process of writing the script and bringing everyone together.
Jarecki: Graydon Carter, who plays Mayfield in the movie and is the editor of Vanity Fair, published a wonderful series of articles called The Great Hangover. It was all these interviews with the major players in the financial world and I wondered, “what’s it like to be one of these players?” That’s how the script began. At that point, I gave the script to Richard (Gere). I got a call about 24 hours later telling me that he wanted to meet and could I come up to his place. So we started to connect and even rehearsed a little right there. Immediately we started to put together the rest of the cast.
Richard, you played a very wealthy, nicer gentleman in Pretty Woman. I wonder how you felt playing a wealthy, yet less savory character in this one?
Gere: They are two different types of films altogether. This is a reality-based film and the other one is not. This came out of Nick. It’s his world. He knows it very well, moving through this environment of characters. When I met him it was very clear that it wouldn’t necessarily be a deadly serious movie because these guys enjoy living this kind of life. It’s fun for them. It’s really a “cocaine high” but without the drug, Success and money was enough.
You talk about that fact that this film was put together in the aftermath of the financial crises and in light of the fact that one single senior executive from the major U.S. banks has not faced criminal charges. Do you think the moral of the story is that while crime doesn’t pay, or that you can get away with anything in America if you’re rich enough?
Jarecki: I would hope the audience would make its own conclusion. Regardless of the outcome, I think (Miller) loses something spiritually in the process and there’s a cost to that as well.
Gere: I don’t think any of these things are final in life. And most of the people that you’ve seen fall, every one of them has come back. Every wife has stayed with the guy, every daughter has forgiven––it’s just the way the world works. This is really a gray world in terms of relationships and I think things can be repaired. I don’t know if it should be, but I think that’s the way it is. A lot of it has to do with the qualities we all have inside of us. The ability to change. I don’t think that families necessarily break up over these things.