POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2012:
Misadventure and Excitement
Fine performances elevate drama, and a classic returns
It's a frustrating thing to see a movie firing on half of its cylinders a film with all the advantages but which can't quite capitalize on the potential of its assets. A film so ripped from the headlines that its cinematic qualities are muted by the sneaking feeling that the writer jotted the outline of its plot while watching CNN for a week.
With Arbitrage, writer/director Nicholas Jarecki (brother to Capturing the Friedmans director, Andrew) exhibits his uneven skills with a tale of commodities tycoon who never thought of himself as a bad guy -- just someone who thinks he can't lose at the game he mastered.
Black Tie Affair. Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon share a meaningful glance in financial thriller Arbitrage.
Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is the head of a seemingly successful, New York trading firm that he runs with his daughter (Another Earth's Brit Marling). Married to the regal matriarch of the clan, Ellen (a typically wonderful Susan Sarandon), Miller carries on an affair with Julie (former model, Letitia Casta), an artist of questionable talent -- artistic talent, anyway -- whose swank apartment and gallery shows are bankrolled by Miller.
Miller is trying to close the sale of his firm to a larger Wall Street conglomerate before anyone realizes that the books -- which report healthy profits across the board -- have been cooked in order to hide the loss of millions in an African copper mine deal gone wrong. As time -- which is not on his side -- goes on, with the prospective buyers seeming to spin their wheels, Miller's impassive calm begins to splinter.
One such meeting makes him late for a gallery show by his mistress, inciting her anger. So he takes her on a late night drive that ends in disaster that compounds, with interest, Miller's avalanche of deceits and blood red ink.
Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki has the advantage of a decent, if clichéd and telegraphed script and a fine cast that does more to elevate the narrative than Jarecki's uneven direction and unremarkable style. While Arbitrage is a good looking film -- loaded with good looking people -- it's his narrative which lays somewhat flat before veering into crime thriller conventions that are entirely too conventional and which impart the feel of a well-made TV Movie of the Week -- one with a slicker look and an above-average cast.
Miller is clearly a conglomeration of Bernie Madoff and Jamie Dimon, but Gere is pretty great here. His performance actually pops off the screen far more than the story he's in. The same goes for Sarandon (sadly Letitia Casta is not known for her acting chops, and it shows) and Brit Marling as the queens of Miller's crumbling empire. Tim Roth turns up to chew scenery in a supporting role that isn't really worthy of what he brings to it.
What Jarecki is going for here is admirable. People are fascinated by tales of the wealthy gone wrong for the same reasons Shakespeare wrote about the rich and royal ("It's where the action is," says one character) and there is something almost creepy about the age-old division between the haves and the haves way too much, as if they might be a different species living in the shadows of another dimension few of us can see.
And while Jarecki competently brings Arbitrage to the screen, he's not yet himself mastered all the skills to make the tale as compelling as his excellent cast almost succeeds in making it feel. He knows how to capture good performances, but his cinematic skill and a sense of style are still works in progress.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The year was 1981 and one year after having my mind thoroughly blown by The Empire Strikes Back -- sealing the formative sci-fi trifecta that was Star Wars and Alien (and the idea that nostalgia isn't always wrong) -- I walked into the Fontana with my dad and saw Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. It was love at first frame.
And I didn't get to see it again for years. Video was still a niche thing, and aside from HBO the only place to see movies was in a movie theater -- which, of course, I only got to visit as often as my parents took me. I had dreams about seeing Raiders again, as if my brain were so starved for Speilberg's near perfect action classic that it tried to screen the whole thing from memory against my twitching, 10-year-old eyelids.
Now, there are more options to see movies than anyone would ever have dreamed 30 years ago -- theaters, home video, streaming to your goddamn phone even -- but there's something to be said for saturation robbing the form of its specialness. The rafts of choices now are almost a form of gluttony.
Raiders is on the verge of a Blu Ray release next week and in a nice bit of can't-lose promotion Paramount has rereleased Raiders in IMAX theaters for a weeklong run, and a nice opportunity for original fans to relive the magic on the big screen. Hint: It's still a joy.
I'm not sure who could not know this, but just in case: Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is a part-time school teacher and full-time archeologist/adventurer who scours the globe for rare artifacts to bring to his school's museum. After a disastrous attempt to retrieve a rare South American idol -- thwarted by his arch nemesis Belloq (Paul Freeman, RIP) who seems to delight in scooping up the fruits of Indy's hard work -- Jones is approached by government agents who need his expertise to thwart Hitler from obtaining the long lost Ark of the Covenant, whose rumored powers could, in the hands of Der Fureher, render the Nazi's a truly unstoppable force and ensure domination by the Third Reich.
Indy, who hates Nazis almost as much as snakes, is -- with his ex, Marion (Karen Allen) and his old friend Salah (John Rhys-Davies) -- ultimately tasked with finding the Ark for the Allies, dodging bullets, flames, the SS and Belloq along the way.
It's classic cliffhanger, serialized stuff and what's most amazing is that while it was an homage to those 1930s adventures made in the '80s Raiders, in the 21st century, hasn't seemed to age a day. It is just as great as it ever was on the big screen.
Just Warming Up. Harrison Ford began playing the role of a lifetime in the Raiders of the Lost Ark, now being shown on IMAX screens.
The script by Lawrence Kasdan (from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman) is like a master class in how to write an action movie; almost non-stop excitement --yet so perfectly paced and well-balanced that the film never seems rushed or breathless.
The gorgeous cinematography of Douglas Slocombe looks amazing -- even in this 2K transfer, oh what 70mm must have been like? -- and the iconic shots (Indy outrunning giant boulders, slotting the staff in the map room or going for a high speed ride under a truck -- all done with actual stuntmen in real danger) look just as amazing as ever.
Spielberg never directed a better movie than Jaws, but Indy comes damn close. As great as the script is, it's the Berg's propulsive, pitch perfect pacing and great sense of tone that still infuse Raiders to this day -- along with his trademark visual sense, coming into its own in a way Jaws only hinted at. Harrison Ford hasn't looked this alive in years.
One of the best movies ever made is on IMAX this week. Use the kids as an excuse to see it again yourself. You know you want to.
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