Coaxing a career-best performance from the archetypal silver fox Richard Gere, first time director/long-time industry presence Nicolas Jarecki has struck gold with his genre-blending debut feature Arbitrage. Featuring heavily on the global festival circuit this year, the film concerns fraudulent hedge fund magnate, Robert Miller, whose methodical disposition begins to frazzle when his mistress winds up dead during the onset of a particularly shady merger. In Miller, Jarecki and Gere have created a well-wrought, Trumpesque character that never ceases to hold our attention, despite being a bit of a bastard.
The title of the film is interesting, as it has an implied dual meaning. Can you explain exactly what you meant by it?
I like the title because it’s a business term which means to buy something inexpensively and sell it for a higher price, simultaneously. The way you do that is by exploiting a special knowledge or abilities that you have. So there’s a certain concept of exploitation built into it. That was something that the character Robert Miller was up to in his business life but I also thought it was a good description for his personal relationships, you know, that he was an emotional arbitrageur.
The film suggests that those with power and influence get to play by different rules, both in life and business. A character like Jimmy on the lower end of the spectrum is easily manipulated, while Miller’s daughter Brooke, one of the films only honest characters, must too accept power structures, despite being on the higher end. Was exploring power relations your main objective with Arbitrage?
When we began working on it, we tried to identify a theme and we came up with the question “Will you give up the power you love to hang on to your last shred of humanity?” The film is really about going between those poles; It’s about power, money and control. I think in a way Jimmy may be the most honest character, but Miller’s argument with his daughter is important. It’s easier for her to have her exalted moral views because she’s to the manor born and she has all this opportunity. So when he’s in Central Park with her, maybe he would love to charm her back to his side, but what he ends up saying is “Who do you think you are? You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me.”
And then that great line, “You’re not my partner, you work for me”.
I’d love to take credit for that line, but what happened was that we did a month of rehearsals, in which Brit, Richard and I worked on that scene a lot. But actually Richard came up with that line in one spontaneous rehearsal, and I thought “That’s great. We have to put that in. He got the character in one.”
Robert Miller is an intriguing character. On surface level he appears to have it all, but when you look beneath he’s plagued by a tempestuous affair and money concerns. At the same time he seems to be seeking redemption. You were involved in the production of Tyson, who can be seen as a similarly conflicted character. Is there something that draws you towards redemptive characters?
I think so, definitely. I grew up on this diet of seventies Hollywood films; Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, The French Connection. I like the tortured anti-hero protagonist, where you’re not really sure if you’re on their side or not. There’s something sexy about that to me, but ultimately you can identify with them. We all make weird choices all the time and are forced to reckon with our own honesty, the easier choice, or the choice that will get us the thing we want. I like the human side of that character, and it attracts me for sure.
Richard Gere is one of those rare actors that actually seems to improve with age. Did you give him any specific direction or let him have a bit of free reign with the character?
We did one month of rehearsal which is really quite a lot, considering the film was made independently and we were outside the system on our own. We didn’t have a lot of time or money but what we did have was passion for the material, and so in this month we did a lot of research. My parents are from the financial world, so I have access to a lot of those minds and I took Richard and Brit and others and introduced them to hedge fund managers. We got to explore that world a lot ahead of time and build a relationship. So by the time we got on set, it was clear how we thought we were going to play it. Actors love specific direction so saying something like “Be angry” is not particularly useful, but if I say something like “Pout”, then it’s a playable action. My job was to watch over what was happening once the plan was in motion and then titrate it a little bit.