Sunday, September 16, 2012

Arbitrage & The Master

Arbitrage is a taut, exciting thriller starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon.


The story is particularly apt coming at the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and in the midst of the presidential campaign. 

 Hedge fund operator Richard Miller has made a very bad investment in Russia that puts his company in peril to the tune of over $400 million.  He borrows that sum and uses illegal accounting practices to make his empire seem stable while he attempts to merge with another firm to save it.  But, the deal has to close within a few days before the loan becomes due and the head of the other firm is being very illusive.

To make matters worse, Richard falls asleep at the wheel while driving to the country at night with his mistress.  He crashes her car and it explodes with her in it after he escapes the wreckage.

Instead of reporting the accident, he has a young black man (Nate Parker), whose family he has been helping, pick him up and drive him home.

Besieged by a wily detective (Tim Roth) and the internal accounting investigation of his daughter/colleague (the exquisite Britt Marling whose own film Another Earth is a must see and is currently available on HBO), Miller tries every means possible to survive.
Well-paced and well-acted, the issue with Arbitrage is this: are we for this Wall Street magnate or not?  Do we want him to win because he claims he does what he does for his family, workers and investors or do we want to be caught because he has betrayed his wife and his daughter’s principles, avoided confessing to his crimes and cheated his merger partner?  What does our answer say about us?

Director Nicholas Jarecki handles this story well.  The only thing I think he missed was one shot in the mirror of the Miller bedroom, when his wife gives him her ultimatum.  Has he learned that he who yells loudest is not necessarily the winner or has this odyssey taught him nothing? 

 Interestingly, the only one who doesn’t seem to care is the merger partner, who has his own nefarious reasons for needing the union of the companies.  That’s Wall Street ethics.

 Arbitrage is worth seeing.  I give it a 4 out of 5.

In parallel to Arbitrage is the story of another guy who thinks yelling loud makes one The Master.


Let me start by saying this film is brilliantly photographed by Mihai Malaimare, Jr backed up by a fabulous lighting crew, including Thomas M. Dangcil, Mike Gerzevitz, Frank Helbig and Michael Lyon. The close-ups, the long shots…all exquisite.

 The acting by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Ambyr Childers and Laura Dern is masterful.
 Now, we come to the three Ws…Weird, What? and Why?

Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson, backed by editors Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty, has for some “Weird” reason chosen to pick scenes that start, but don’t end. There’s a jump to some other scene without conclusion to the one we're watching.  And many of these scenes are uninteresting or as if they're from some book I should have read in order to understand why they are there.

So “What” is this all about?  The buzz is that this is a takeoff on Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, but apparently Anderson did not have that in mind when he initially wrote the script.  Nevertheless, it’s a great marketing ploy that’s made for sold-out shows all weekend in Manhattan and may keep the film going.  The bad news is that there’s no lack of cult leaders to form the basis of stories like this one.

 Finally, “Why?” I wouldn’t buy gas from any of these people, much less want to spend more than a minute meeting any of them, if I were visiting an asylum.  The only entity I had empathy for was the great house in which much of the action takes place and where Phoenix’ character was beating on the fine woodwork. I was worried that he might break the lovely windows, not that he might hurt himself.

When I asked the stranger seated next to me what she thought of the film, she, too, mentioned the cinematography and the great acting, but as far as the story, she was speechless.  She’d have to think about it.  Don’t waste your time, dear.  Take in something more intelligent like a 3 Stooges episode. This is not an important work and anyone who thinks it is is fodder for a cult.

For its actors and tech people, I give it a 3 out of 5.  If you're going to go, I recommend seeing it in 70mm projection to enjoy the richness of the images.





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