By Daniel Garrett
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki
Robert Miller, a working class boy who has made good and become bad, learned the lesson the world insists on teaching: that money matters above all. He has learned that lesson and designed his life around it and prospered. Robert Miller is a New York colossus, a man of ambition, power, and wealth, an icon of success, a man whose eminence has isolated him from those he loves and corrupted him: he cannot see past his own desires and will. Miller is a useful fiction in Arbitrage, a film that shows what happens when a man’s sense of his own power begins to lose touch with reality: a great business deal fails, the contradictions in his private life become obvious, and his social position is threatened. Miller (Richard Gere) has a great life, a beautiful, intelligent wife (Susan Sarandon) and loving children and grandchildren, a mansion, a great car, and a jet, a philanthropic foundation, and a mistress, but when an unauthorized deal goes bad he loses more than a hundred million dollars and covers it up with a loan from an impatient friend, a fact that might be disclosed in the auditing that attends the proposed sale of his company. Robert Miller is walking a tightrope. Yet, he has a birthday party in which he celebrates his family. His momentary lapses into sentimentality are seen immediately by shrewder members of his family as something that usually corresponds to trouble in business, which has been the true arena of his life. Robert Miller’s daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), an executive in his company, wonders what they would do together if he retired. Things begin to worsen when Robert Miller goes on an excursion with his mistress and has a car accident in which she dies—and Miller, rather than reporting the accident, calls the son of his former African-American chauffeur to drive Miller from the scene of the accident. The police trace a call made from the accident area and find the young black man, who becomes embroiled in the rich white man’s life. The young man is played by Nate Parker, and at first he does not seem special but with every encounter his stature grows: Jimmy Grant (Parker) is actually someone who cares about the rich man, who helped when the chauffeur-father was ill and dying. The young man has been in trouble with the law himself, but Jimmy now has a good life, a new business and a young woman who loves him, but he wants to help Miller even if that means some trouble for himself. The young man is a figure of honesty who does not tell the truth, a man in doubt who acts decisively; and Nate Parker gives an admirable, illuminating, rare performance in a film that makes plain the treachery and rewards of being a man in New York.
Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today. Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader.