By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The Bernie Madoff mess would make an amazing movie all on its own. But put Richard Gere in the picture and unless you throw on an unknown Julia Roberts as well….well… the movie is more likely than not to be all about Gere.
There are a few exceptions: Edward Norton (in his first film) managed to wrest “Primal Fear” out of Gere’s grip. And “Chicago’s sheer razzmatazz cornered the star into being an ensemble player (and a very effective one).
Jodie Foster’s generosity in “Sommersby” summoned something different than his usual self-admiration, as did honing in on Clifford Irving’s sheer chutzpah in “The Hoax.”
I used to dislike Gere so thoroughly that, during my three decades at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I would routinely hand off his movies to the second-stringer.
Then he did a policier (fancy French for a certain sort of police movie) called “Internal Affairs” and I made myself take a second look. The actor’s creamy good looks and karmic posturing were still a problem. But he demonstrated a willingness to subordinate himself to the role. A not especially flattering role as a possibly crooked cop.
I started to like him —and to routinely remind myself I WAS a flexible reviewer…or reasonably so. That my likes/dislikes weren’t carved in stone.
So…this is a self-indulgent and long-winded way to say, I approached his new movie “Arbitrage” knowing that I had a problem with Gere. But taking on a part as potentially rich as the man who become the emblem for all that is rotten on Wall Street…well, look what Michael Douglas did as the original proselytizer for “Greed is Good.”
Alas, “Arbitrage” is geared toward Gere. Instead of sticking with the already-dramatic tale of a shark among sharks whose lack of conscience almost makes the rest of the crop look good, the picture turns to murder, adultery, questionable cops and racism among the elite.
The trappings are exactly right, from Gere’s well-appointed Upper East Side apartment to his equally well-appointed society wife (Susan Sarandon). Theirs is a world of entitlement and charity balls, opening nights and gallery-hopping. Making his daughter his CFO instead of a son offers the potential for something unexplored. But that’s pretty much what it is — unexplored.
Granted, “Arbitrage” isn’t meant as a Madoff roman a clef. Gere fools old friends because he’s gotten in trouble with an ill-considered investment, not because he’s — as far as we know about Madoff — a self-destructive psychopath.
This is not to say that “Arbitrage” dull or insulting. It’s just another movie about the glamorous cracks in the dashing movie creation that is Richard Gere. If his mistress in the movie (of course he has one), had been played by Julia Roberts, we may have had “Pretty Woman Redux.”
At least they didn’t go that route.