At 63, Richard Gere might have finally given the performance of his career in Arbitrage, another film that attempts to be poignant in its exploration of the convoluted calculus that is modern capitalism. To be fair, the film has its bright spots – albeit in a very cynical story – but many of the bright spots are occluded by predictable twists and turns.

Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge fund magnate known as “The Oracle” because of his seemingly otherworldly knowledge of financial trends and prospects, but as he enters his enters the third act of his life, he is ready to sell his company, pass along the financial responsibilities to his daughter, Brooke, and confesses over dinner to “truly understand what’s important” even though it’s “taken sixty years.” This importance is a bit different – seemingly – than his previous ideology that the five most important things in life are “m-o-n-e-y.” Almost immediately, Arbitrage attempts to convince us that Miller is turning over a new life, but this is bunked only moments later when Miller shakes off his wife’s advances (Susan Sarandon) and visits Julie, his mistress.

Soon after, we learn that Miller is committing fraud (borrowing $412million to pass it off as his company is being audited by a potential purchaser), and thus begins the clash of protecting one’s family by protecting one’s family business, no matter what means are used. And, this is where Arbitrage becomes less a contemporary story of a man changing his ways in the twilight of his life, and more about pragmatism. More appropriately, how we view pragmatism: whether the means to topple a wealthy man are less nefarious than the means to deceive a young black man caught up in a woman’s death for which he is not responsible.

To step back: Julie owns a gallery funded by Miller. She’s an entrepreneur, a frustrated mistress, and a cocaine abuser. Clearly, she must perish and – spoiler – she does, as she and Miller drive away on a dark highway. If only he had also taken some coke – the illegal or the caffeinated – he wouldn’t have sleepily driven the car into a guardrail, flipping it until Julie’s head is nearly taken off.

Clearly, if he’s found with an incinerated car (of course it blows up after a crash) and a dead body, there will be trouble – not so much on the home front (his wife knows of his extramarital endeavors), but with the pending purchase of his company. Evidently, this sort of thing would give the other investor pause, or at least lower Miller’s selling price because of the fickle nature of investors.

This event and its potential repercussions lead Miller to contact Jimmy Grant, the Harlem-living son of Miller’s deceased, former driver. Herein, Jimmy is linked to a potential charge of involuntary manslaughter against Miller.

And, this is a problem for a few reasons.

First, I’m not sure that Miller would actually be charged with manslaughter here – or at least, I’m not sure that the charges would stick. He wasn’t intoxicated; he wasn’t driving recklessly; she chose not to wear a seat belt. Perhaps he would be charged, but his high-priced lawyer would almost certainly get the charges dropped.

Second, I’m not sure why Miller is so vilified by Detective Bryer (Tim Roth, who is characteristically strong in this role). It’s almost as if Arbitrage is feeding off of the fervor of the 99% against the 1%, assuming that the rich are villains simply because they’re rich. Admittedly, Miller is cheating on his wife, but this isn’t reason enough to want to incarcerate him, is it? And yes, he’s committing fraud to sell his company, but has my pessimism convinced me that this is common?

Perhaps it has.

But, the film doesn’t dispel this. Rather, the film supports this by fashioning Jimmy as a widget for both sides. Miller uses him to get out of a jam, knowing that his powerless existence does not threaten Miller’s comfort. At the same time, the Bryer’s subterfuge and deception threatens to put Jimmy in jail (parole violation) for ten years just to spitefully tarnish Miller’s name.
Miller’s name wields a wealth of power, but does it surpass the value of Jimmy’s life?

In the end, Jimmy’s inclusion in Arbitrage is used to investigate the frailty of humanity, but this seems to be earlier illustrated by Miller’s deceit. It seems, in the end, that Arbitrage might have done better to pick one side as opposed to both. Both themes are ripe for cultivating, and trying to include both dilutes the power of what the film could have been, making the project a veritable arbitrage.