Arbitrage (US - BD RA)
Jonathan sees a promising debut from first-time director Nicholas Jarecki...
Robert Miller (Gere) is a New York hedge-fun magnate who appears to have it all - money, power, a loving wife (Susan Sarandon), and a devoted daughter (Brit Marling) working by his side. But behind the gilded walls of his mansion Miller is running on borrowed time, trying to unload his crippled trading company before his frauds are revealed. A deadly error throws Miller's "perfect life" into a tailspin, raising the suspicions of a detective (Tim Roth) and threatening the future of his financial empire. As the line blurs between what is right and wrong, legal and criminal, Miller is driven to desperate measures to protect the only thing more precious than his considerable fortune: his family. (From the Lionsgate synopsis)
Arbitrage is the story of a Robert Miller (Gere), a one percenter who cooks his company's books and cheats on his wife. Easy to dislike? You bet. He finds himself in particularly hot water after he causes a car accident that kills his passenger. His billion dollar company is currently in negotiations to be sold. Fearing that manslaughter charges would ruin his company's reputation, and knowing that lots of jobs were depending on him, he decides to flee the burning the wreckage. There is no evidence that directly ties him to the wreck, but Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) has his suspicions and begins snooping around to find answers. Arbitrage is billed as a thriller, but there are no action sequences and the story never races from one scene to the next. This is a very deliberately paced downhill drama that would be right at home with 2007's Michael Clayton.
The story is a constant balancing act in morality, and first-time writer/director Nicholas Jarecki pulls it off more often than not. With careful writing and a vulnerable performance from Richard Gere, Jarecki manages the feat of turning this despicable, selfish magnate into someone that we actually care about. He does this largely with the help of supporting characters whose fates are directly tied to Robert. His daughter, who helps him run his company, is played by Brit Marling. She is a symbol of youth and purity to Robert, and she is inevitably pulled into a moral crossroad as Robert's corruption is exposed. Marling showed great promise in Another Earth, which she co-wrote and starred in. I have yet to see The Sound of My Voice, but if her work in Another Earth and Arbitrage is any indication, she is on her way to great things. Here, she holds her own with veterans Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon effortlessly. The most sympathetic character in the movie is Jimmy Grant, played by Nate Parker. When Robert got in the car accident, he called Jimmy to pick him up, directly involving him in his crime. Robert helped Jimmy's family in the past, so Jimmy feels indebted to him. But Jimmy is also trying to make an honest living after serving some time in prison. If Arbitrage is an allegory of the modern US economy, Jimmy is the 99% that is suffering because of the 1% greed. How deeply he becomes involved with Robert's criminal activities and what becomes of him is something I'll keep secret, but it is one of the far more compelling aspects of the screenplay.
I had a difficult time pinpointing how I felt about the movie overall. I've given it a score of 7, but I'd give it a 7.5 if our rating system allowed it. I wasn't convinced by some of the more spoiler-filled plot elements. Some characters could've used more background to flesh out their motivations. I didn't feel Detective Bryer's desperation (despite Tim Roth's entertaining mannerisms) or the slowly building wrath of Susan Sarandon's wife character. But there is no doubt that Arbitrage is an intelligent film, and a very impressive debut. There were many points where I felt like I knew where this plot was going, but by the end none of my predictions came true. It really kept me intrigued and involved right up until the credits, which is more than I can say for many action-packed thrillers. Nicholas Jarecki comes from a talented family of directors. Andrew Jarecki made the great but very disturbing Capturing the Friedmans. Eugene Jarecki made the devastating The House I Live In, which is my favorite documentary of 2012. Now I have three Jareckis to look out for more work from.
Lionsgate brings Arbitrage to Blu-ray with a faithful transfer. The feature takes up 27.5 GB of a BD-50. It is immediately clear that this was shot on film, and Jarecki confirms it in his commentary as he passionately notes that digital just is not for him. Personally I think film is the perfect choice for this material. The movie has a very dim appearance to it. Lots of scenes take place in barely lit interiors and even outdoor scenes appear to be overcast. These seem to be deliberate stylistic choices and not faults of the transfer. The luscious greens and reds of foliage in a park scene are the closest you get vibrant colors. The same overcast effect makes skin tones look warmer than normal. Black levels seem fine. Darkness and large gradient areas never succumb to blocky compression effects. Detail feels softer than it should be, and some shots feel out of focus, but I see no evidence of post-processing effects being the cause of this. Compression isn't a problem, and I'm willing to bed that this transfer closely resembles how Arbitrage looked in theaters. That said, it won't be the sharp, vibrant movie you'll want to use to show off your television set.
Above is one interesting issue that I noticed during a scene in the film. As you may notice from the other caps, this movie has a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that fills up a 16:9 television entirely. For one small portion of this scene, some black matting slid up from the bottom of the screen. It goes away after a couple seconds, but it was awfully distracting for that moment. It never happened again. It happened at 55:56 if anyone cares to look for it on their copy.
This Arbitrage Blu-ray comes with a crystal clear but very centered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. There are scenes where characters practically yell at each other in outdoor environments, and everything remains confined to the center channel. Other times there is a plethora of background noise in restaurants or parties. In one party scene, the environment comes alive with background music and chatter that fills every channel in the room. The LFE channel is only really used with music and a loud car accident. For the most part it is just dialogue in the center channel, which is fine given the content of the film. Every word of it is easy to discern and once I made my initial volume adjustments I never felt like the track was too loud or too quiet. Its a simple, well-balanced track that does the job, despite some missed opportunities to liven up the extra channels.
The Commentary with Writer/Director Nicholas Jarecki is a very informative listen. Jarecki is almost always talking and seems to have arrived for the recording with a lot of preparation done in advance. For the first 10-15 minutes of the commentary track, he mostly talks about his personal background and how he got into the business. For instance, he was a computer science consultant on Hackers. This segues into how he eventually got Arbitrage, which took a lot of faith support from the actors in the film. The track is never boring, but Jarecki probably spends about 50% of the time actually talking about what is happening on screen. If you're hoping for a thought-by-thought process into certain scenes, you may not get it here, but he tells a lot of pleasing stories and gives some fascinating insight into his written characters.
A Glimpse Into Arbitrage (HD, 12:23) is a short but sweet look behind the scenes. There are interview clips with director Nicholas Jarecki, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling. Jarecki comes across as a very humble and very passionate filmmaker. They go into some detail about the casting process and the actors comment on what it was like to work with another. Who is Robert Miller (HD, 7:02) is a similar featurette assembled from the same interview footage. This one focuses specifically on Richard Gere's character, how he was portrayed in the film, and what the actors/filmmakers saw in this character. There are six Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (HD, 10:08). There is more footage of the interview and the plane ride from the beginning of the film. There's an extra scene with Brit Marling's character reflecting on a moral dilemma she is in, and also some scenes of Nate Parker's character's home life. Jarecki's sets up each scene very nicely in the optional commentary track, and he explains why each scene was cut from the film. There is some good stuff here, but almost all of it was removed for pacing reasons.
What Arbitrage does more than anything is show promise of a bright career for first-time director Nicholas Jarecki. The story has some weak moments, but this is an indisputably thoughtful piece of work that is bolstered by one of Richard Gere's best performances to date. This Blu-ray release has a consistently strong video transfer and a balanced audio track to accompany it. Extras are short in number, but there is a lot of content covered by the featurettes and an involving audio commentary from Jarecki.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 21st December 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Extras: Commentary with Writer/Director Nicholas Jarecki, "A Glimpse Into Arbitage", "Who is Robert Miller?", Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 107 minutes
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