In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Hollywood has produced a string of Wall Street-themed thrillers that document the systemic meltdown and the narcissism of the bankers who caused it. As another name on a fairly accomplished list, “Arbitrage” had a lot to do to distinguish itself. But it manages to justify its existence with relative finesse and wit. This film is a financial-thriller-meets-murder-mystery that captivates its audience, even if it doesn’t quite meet the full potential of either mystery or thriller.

Arbitrage

At the State
Lionsgate


To picture Richard Gere (“The Double”) playing a leading business tycoon while not romancing Julia Roberts is a little strange at first. But it’s refreshing to see him in something other than a romantic comedy. Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge fund magnate whose thriving company is on the verge of going broke after a bad investment in copper — the profits from his business can’t make it to America. The details of this ‘arbitrage’ are too economically complex for this writer to elaborate, but luckily one doesn’t need to be an economics major to enjoy the film.

Miller decides to replace the lost money with his friend’s — but only long enough to sell his company to a hesitant competitor. But he hasn’t seen the worst of it yet. Miller unexpectedly gets into an accident, killing the woman he’s having an affair with, Julie (Laetitia Casta, “War of the Buttons”). He can’t call the cops for fear of exposing his affair and ending the pending sale of his company. Instead, he has to construct a string of lies to make sure he’s not associated with the accident, making Julie’s death seem like a homicide instead of involuntary manslaughter.

What follows is a smart, quick thriller about a man who’s trying to get himself and his family out of both financial and criminal crisis. The lies he has to construct are complex and unpredictable, and one has to credit first-time director and writer Nicholas Jarecki for his bold script and enticing filming. The fact that this movie keeps the audience guessing is cause alone for it to be commended.

And then there’s the film’s almost over-qualified cast. Susan Sarandon (“Robot and Frank”) as Robert’s wife Ellen is too good for her part, but her talent is crucial to making this film more than just a financial thriller. Her fear and frustration at Robert’s lies make this movie more endearing than its purely money-minded counterparts.

Tim Roth (“The Incredible Hulk”) as Detective Bryer is equally charming in his role. And Gere is, well, Gere, but better. Jarecki endows his lead with a character simultaneously flawed, complex and powerful — and Gere delivers.

The only problem with this film is that it doesn’t live up to everything it promises. It’s not fast-paced enough to be a thriller, it’s not as unexpected or twist-ridden as a mystery and, thankfully, it’s not dry enough to be a documentary. And that leaves it on the cusp of everything, but not quite the master of any one thing.

But that’s far from saying that it’s not entertaining or interesting. “Arbitrage” has a plot that will keep you guessing, and a cast that delivers some powerhouse performances. And of course, there’s the charm of watching Gere’s dimpled face play a part worthy of his talents in a film that’s neither a romance nor a comedy.

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