Arbitrageis your front row ticket to the superficially-enviable life of handsome billionaire Robert Miller (Richard Gere). Besides presiding over a huge hedge fund, on the personal front he’s also happily married to Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) is a capable accountant ready to take over the reins of his business. It’s a pretty picture of a man who has it all, just as he’s about to celebrate turning the big 6-0.

Especially in the wake of a recent spate of sex scandals involving respected politicians, generals and even teachers that have grabbed headlines, this is actually a familiar tale of the rich and famous taking a dive when their dirty little secrets/lies are exposed.

Arbitrage follows the hedge fund magnifico whose self-serving foxy ways have come back to haunt him.

The film opens up with a light-hearted scene where Robert has a get-together with his family ready to celebrate his 60th birthday. We get the impression that he’s the kind of man we all want to be ­– successful in business while not forgetting family. The kind of man we would judgementally expect a billionaire to not be.

And then in the next 10 minutes, we are sadly proven right. It is revealed that behind that calm poise of a person is a flawed tycoon who’s a mess inside. Desperately trying to sell off his trading company to a leading bank before the US$400 million (S$489.32 million) hole in his books are revealed, he struggles to conceal his chicanery from his devoted wife and daughter.

As if things weren’t bad enough, the charmed and charming industry captain’s also struggling to hide his affair with a very difficult French art-dealer Julie Côte (Laetitia Casta). So the last thing he needs is to be the media darling when he falls asleep at the wheel of his Mercedes killing Julie who he’s whisking away for a romantic rendezvous. The man facing both “a thousand year’s jail time” and losing the merger with the bank that would save him from financial ruin, ropes in the help of ex-convict Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of one of his late loyal employees that he promised to care for, to cover it all up.

They manage to fool all but 1 cop, the obnoxiously confident Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth). Bryer even has all the evidence he needs to send Jimmy back to jail, along with Robert to accompany him this time. But like everyone else (but Jimmy) in Arbitrage, he can be bought over if the price is right.

There’s so much going on at once that there’s a chance the audience will probably get confused, but first-time feature director and writer Nicholas Jarecki does an amazing job with Arbitrage. It stands to reason that the son of American academic, psychiatrist, entrepreneur and philanthropist Henry Jarecki (estimated net worth of US$1.3 billion (S$1.589 billion)) would have the high life in his DNA.

And it shows. His screenplay makes the potentially stodgy plot unpredictable with surprises, smart dialogue and esoteric minor characters that keep you guessing what’s going to happen next.

One scene we’ll never forget is the one where Robert tries to strike a deal with Jimmy after he finds out that his Jimmy was at risk of going to jail.

“Here’s a trust, with assets of two million dollars, set up in your name. Take a look at that.”

“You serious? You think money’s gonna fix this? Huh?”

And Robert replied with a perplexed and innocent look, “What else is there?”

Complementing the riveting directing is a stellar performance by 63-year-old killer actor Richard Gere who, like Sean Connery, seems to only get better with age. As someone who turned down the Oscar-winning character of another rich financial titan scumbag Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street 25 years ago, Gere plays his current character so convincingly that every action seemed to have additional significance.

For example, when Brooke showed Robert a Forbes magazine with him on the cover, he waved it off. With that dismissive gesture, Gere managed to reveal Robert as a man who was in the game solely for wealth and not fame (think the opposite of Donald Trump). Gere knows just what kind of a man Robert Miller is, and it’s no shocker that his role in Arbitrage was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for a Motion Picture Drama.

Kudos also go to the first-class director of photography Yorick Le Saux for the outstanding cinematography. Every shot and camera angle emphasised Robert’s elegant movements and gave him the authority of his position. Even the scene where Robert was nervously burning evidence while in pain from the aftermath of the car crash looked gracious.

In short, everything went right for Arbitrage. Despite its high potential of becoming yet another one of those films about money laundering and failed relationships of the wealthy, every element (directing, writing, acting and filming)  served the film so well and created what some have rightly called a masterpiece. Definitely a must-watch.

Movie: Arbitrage
Rating: 5/5
Release Date: Dec 27, 2012 (Singapore)
Duration: 107 minutes
Language: English
Age Rating: NC16 (Coarse Language and Some Drug Scenes)
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth