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posted: 9/13/2012 6:00 AM

'Arbitrage' a slickly produced, morally messy thriller

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  • Brooke (Brit Marling) confronts her financier father (Richard Gere) about missing funds in the capitalistic thriller "Arbitrage."

      Brooke (Brit Marling) confronts her financier father (Richard Gere) about missing funds in the capitalistic thriller "Arbitrage."

  • Julie (Laetitia Casta) shares a romantic moment with her adulterer lover (Richard Gere) just before a tragedy in the capitalistic thriller "Arbitrage."

      Julie (Laetitia Casta) shares a romantic moment with her adulterer lover (Richard Gere) just before a tragedy in the capitalistic thriller "Arbitrage."

  • Video: "Arbitrage" trailer

 
 

Finally, somebody made a sequel to Garry Marshall's hit romantic comedy "Pretty Woman."

Except that Nicholas Jarecki's "Arbitrage" isn't very romantic, has no comedy and can hardly be called pretty.

Richard Gere stars in the amoral capitalistic thriller "Arbitrage" as New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller, but the character represents a thinly disguised older version of his "Pretty Woman" counterpart, corporate raider Edward Lewis.

In both cases, Gere's trademark cold exterior and aloof demeanor masking enigmatic mental maneuverings fit these characters with actorly ease.

It's not hard to imagine that 22 years have passed since Lewis married his favorite prostitute Vivian, who has evolved into Miller's sexy, cynical spouse Ellen (Susan Sarandon).

The Millers can barely be referred to as the one percent. They more likely qualify for the point-one percent.

They live high above New York's most expensive streets and possess all the perks of wealth and class.

But beneath the Millers' routine spousal banter resides something restless and duplicitous. Robert has been having an affair with a pretty French art dealer named Julie Cote (Laetitia Casta).

Late one night on their way to an upper class version of a booty call, Robert drives Julie in her car. He falls asleep and inexplicably flips the car over in one of the big screen's most flamboyantly flashy crashes.

The accident instantly kills Julie and severely injures Robert, who realizes that publicity about this scandalous incident could sink an impending merger.

Not a routine fire-everyone-and-move-the-plant-to-Mexico merger, mind you, but a deal that would enable him to unload $400 million in debt hidden from his partner and chief accountant, his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling).

Fortunately, the capital gods smile upon Robert by setting Julie's car on fire. With some excellent lying, Robert figures he can beat this bad luck, so he calls up a young family friend Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker) with specific instructions on how to pick him up and take him home to his unsuspecting wife.

Things appear to go Robert's way for a while, until Tim Roth enters the investigation as a sleazoid police detective named Bryer whose two chief attributes are persistence and chewing up city scenery with belligerent bravado.

"Arbitrage" offers some satisfying perks as an edgy little thriller, but it wants us to warm up to Gere's corrupt, manslaughtering capitalist and quietly root for him to somehow get out of this mess just as the innocent hero of a Hitchcock movie might do.

Not gonna happen, especially with Gere constantly applying the brakes to Robert's vulnerability.

Had George Clooney or another more sensitive actor played Robert, the character might have gained some sympathetic traction. Not Gere.

Writer/director Jarecki draws a tight bead on the world of privilege inhabited by the Millers, even down to how Bryer and the cops relentlessly abuse Jimmy Grant, a middle-class black, while adopting a kid gloves approach to handling the rich, white Robert.

Still, this would have been a punchier, more involving drama had Jarecki not relegated the emotional, multilayered conflict between the corrupt, pragmatic father and his idealistic, razor-sharp daughter into a mere subplot.

What's left is a slickly produced, maddeningly realistic look at a corrupt system that favors the rich, a system in which the judiciary becomes the unlikely and sole source of moral authority.

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