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ARBITRAGE is a predictable peek into the pitiable life of moneybags

It could have turned out to be another AMERICAN BEAUTY, but it was not to be in these times when art strictly follows the rules of business and its sole purpose is to make money, choosing the easiest possible course, even if it means short-changing the customer. Yet ARBITRAGE provides a good and realistic peek into the ways businesses are run these days while keeping you engaged with a simplistic story and a crafty screenplay. It is almost like a documentary presented as a feature film.

Robert Miller (Richard Gere) owns an investment firm in New York and is considered an oracle that cannot fail and is widely feted for his business acumen by the media. His family consists of his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon), daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), and a good-for-nothing son. His socialite wife runs a charity funded by her husband. Miller also supports a younger French art dealer Julie Cote (Laetetia Casta) who he has an affair with. In other words he is a good provider and has been balancing his family and extra-marital love life successfully.

But all is not well with his business. He has lost a lot of money in an investment deal that has gone bad and has been fudging his accounts by borrowing from his friends to hide it and thus exposing himself to a fraud charge that may land him in jail. He is also desperate to sell his firm before his acts of omission and commission get exposed. It's like a Vijay Mallya waiting for FDI in Aviation sector, and a Kishor Biyani waiting for FDI in multi-brand retail to hive off their debt-ridden loss-making enterprises.

Miller's problems get compounded when Julie dies in a car accident. He was driving the car. Now, he has to cover up this as well until he sells his firm. Somehow, he knows that he can rely on none, not even his family, when in crisis and the rats will be quick to abandon the sinking ship. And the only person he can rely on is the young son of his ex-driver Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a black, who has served a short prison term for a minor offence. Jimmy helps him cover up for the accident. He holds up well against the onslaught of Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth) who is out to get the rich guy Miller by hook or crook.

Miller is almost done in. While the proposed buyer of his firm James Mayfield (Bruce Altman) prevaricates, his own daughter Brooke finds out about the fudged accounts and blames him for jeopardizing her career and gets in touch with a lawyer to save her own skin. Detective Bryer's enthusiasm to nail Miller clouds his judgment and he invents a piece of evidence to browbeat and coerce Grant into turning a snitch. This backfires, and gets Miller off the hook in the case. However, his wife Ellen won't let him get away without having her pound of flesh. Finally, Miller succeeds in tying over the multiple crises in his life.

It is a commonplace story. A smart screenplay makes it engaging. What really saves and sustains the film is Miller's character. He comes across as a victim of the circumstances created by himself and as a lonely man whose relationships are based on his success that can only be measured in terms of money. If he does not have money, he will have no family, no friends, and no life. He knows it. That's why he goes after money and success. This piece of stark modern day reality adds gravitas and substance to the film's subject and Gere's role. He has the sympathy of the audience for being a guy who is fighting against all odds, not so much for himself but for his family and the rest, even if they are not trustworthy. He even tolerates and lives with their betrayal in moments of crisis.

Miller is like the robber Ratnakar of Hindu mythology whose family would live off the booty he brought home, but won't share his sins. It's the burden he had to carry himself. This realization turned Ratnakar into the well-known sage and philosopher Valmiki, something that could only happen in ancient India.

Miller, a quintessential American capitalist roader, cannot do it. He has to go on living his pathetic life with all his lies, sharing beds with untrustworthy partners, and surviving in a dog-eats-dog universe. He must nurture and sustain a socio-economic edifice that rests on falsehood, fraud, and mutual distrust. He is condemned to a surreal existence in a living hell right here on the Earth and thus deserves our pity.

Rajesh Kumar Singh