Arbitrage: a reminder of a talent so often put to waste

I've been rolling my eyes at Richard Gere for 30 years, alternately alienated and charmed by his good looks and his shockingly evident narcissism and self-regard; his abidingly terrible taste in projects, and the fact that somehow, no matter how many movies like Intersection he makes (or like King David, or Mr Jones) sooner or later there will come an end to his lengthy career-drought and, like a flailing magician, he will somehow revive his good name and box office rep with a blockbuster comeback like Pretty Woman, or an intelligent movie like Internal Affairs.

Or, Nicholas Jarecki's very watchable new thriller Arbitrage.

As Robert Miller, a 60-year-old investment-fund billionaire, Gere has it all: a full head of silver hair, a good name on Wall Street and a hot deal in the making, a beautiful wife (Susan Sarandon), and a loving daughter (Brit Marling). But after he crashes his car on a lonely road, killing his French mistress, we get to watch him throw every ethical caution to the wind, fighting ruthlessly for survival as his investments fall apart, the cops close in, and his lies and betrayals ensnare him ever more tightly.

The movie's effectiveness relies on our ambivalent feelings about Gere himself; his good looks and good luck. You may root for Miller in his plight, but half of you wants him to fail, to suffer. It also relies, however, on a rich lead performance: the man can really act. You think Gere's a 1980s actor because of An Officer And A Gentleman in 1982? Not really: that was his last hit until 1991. The never-ending succession of duds in the intervening years (as in his other lean periods) is exhausting just to read: The Honorary Consul, The Cotton Club, No Mercy, Power...

In this he is like his exact contemporary and kinda-sorta doppelganger John Travolta (they both played the lead in Grease; Gere on stage, Travolta in the movie). Each closed out the 70s on a high note. Travolta was the iconic face of that decade in America so his subsequent drift into irrelevance until Pulp Fiction must have hit hard. Gere, by contrast, was the Boy Most Likely. He started out with a succession of eye-catching turns in movies by noted directors: John Schlesinger's underrated Yanks, Looking For Mr Goodbar (Richard Brooks), Days Of Heaven (Terrence Malick) and Paul Schrader's American Gigolo. All the action came early on in Gere's career; the rest has largely been comebacks.

The defining scene of Gere's whole career – and, indeed, his on-screen persona – comes in American Gigolo, when Smokey Robinson sings The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage while Gere's high-end male prostitute lays out one exquisite silk shirt after another on his bed, each alongside its appropriate tie, cufflinks and shoes: "Oh, you gave the illusion that your love was real..."

Arbitrage will repeatedly remind you of that moment.

Powered by article was written by John Patterson, for The Guardian on Friday 22nd February 2013 06.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Jessica Diamond