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Filmmaker invests special interest in dirty dealings of 'Arbitrage'

Published On: Nov 02 2012 02:13:18 PM CDT   Updated On: Nov 04 2012 01:36:39 PM CST
Richard Gere Nicholas Jarecki Arbitrage

Richard Gere and writer-director Nicholas Jarecki on the set of "Arbitrage."

Awards season is already heating up, and without question one film that is sure to gather some attention is "Arbitrage" -- first-time director Nicholas Jarecki's searing dramatic thriller that all-too closely mirrors current events in the financial world.

Richard Gere stars in the film as Robert Miller, a calm and collected hedge fund magnate who under the surface is suffering a do-or-die financial crisis. Exacerbating the situation is a tragic accident involving Miller and his mistress -- the exact sort of publicity that would derail a deal sure to save his financial empire and legacy -- or totally derail him and the people who depend on him.

And the clock is ticking fast before all hell breaks loose.

Now playing in theaters and Video-On-Demand, "Arbitrage" also stars Susan Sarandon as Miller's privileged wife and Brit Marling ("Another Earth") as his daughter and business partner -- both of whom who are completely oblivious to the charismatic patriarch's dirty financial dealings.

When "Arbitrage" was released in mid-September, several journalists described Miller in "Arbitrage" as "Bernie Madoff-like," but Jarecki said when you boil Gere's character down, that's hardly the case. If anything, the financial crash in 2008 sparked the idea, but that's where the similarities end..

"I started writing the script in 2009 after the Madoff case came about," Jarecki recalled for me in a recent interview. "I was reading a lot of great articles about it in Vanity Fair magazine about the financial crisis, and its editor, Graydon Carter (who plays a pivotal character in the film) also did this great series on Madoff. He wrote about what the sons knew, what the secretaries knew, et cetera."

And what Jarecki realized quickly, was that he didn't want to make a Madoff-themed film.

"I read pretty early on that Madoff said from jail, 'F--- my victims,' so I knew right away that that character wouldn't sustain a feature film. I thought, 'He's a crazy, sick sociopath and I'll be bored with that character after five minutes. I don't have too much to learn'" Jarecki said. "So I started thinking, 'This character I want to do, Robert Miller, has to be more in the tradition of Greek tragedies. He has to be more of a good man, a larger-than-life king, a good figure, who has become corrupt over time. He's become a little too drunk with his own power and has forgotten how important luck is, and that he was real special.' So he gets carried away and starts to take liberties."

That concept is where the title "Arbitrage" came from, Jarecki added.

"It basically means to buy low, sell high and make a profit by exploiting special knowledge," explained Jarecki, a New York native. "So where I saw that relevant here was that he was emotionally exploiting the people in his life because he knew best and really 'The Man.' But how much of our lives do we really control? I think a lot of what happens to us is luck."

The key to the success of a plot like this, Jarecki observed, is whether audiences can relate or not. After all, most people in their lives -- combined -- will not see the sort of cash Miller has accrued in "Arbitrage."

"I wanted Miller to be more human -- more about something that everybody could relate to, because you don't have to be rich or poor to get carried away and have pride and hubris," Jarecki said. "Those are very human feelings."

That's not to say the financial moguls that Jarecki keys in on in "Arbitrage" weren't affected by what they saw in the film. True, the film isn't Madoff-esque per se, but that's not to say everybody else on Wall Street is squeaky clean.

"One of my proudest moments was a few weeks ago right before we opened, at a screening in the East Hamptons in New York. It's one of the wealthiest places on the planet," Jarecki recalled. "In the theater there were several hedge fund managers there, several who had inspired the film. The collective personal net worth of the people watching the film was maybe $20 billion.'"

Jarecki said he knew he had these power players in his pocket, metaphorically, of course, when he got their reactions.

"After the film these guys came up to me and said, 'We really like the film, but it really made us uneasy from beginning to end. What you've done is sort of captured our personal nightmare. This is what we all worry about,'" Jarecki recalled. "That was really fulfilling. I was thinking, 'If the real guys are saying it bothers them, then we've really captured something. We've really captured reality.'"

While the first and foremost thing Jarecki wants to do with "Arbitrage" is entertain his audiences, he won't have any problem if beyond the film it inspires people to learn more -- because what's out there to learn is pretty sobering.

"I hope people get more educated about the money system and how they're getting ripped off in every little way by credit card companies that charge usurious fees, and others that rip them off with bank card fees," Jarecki said. "For me, I believe there's a special place in hell reserved for people who overcharge the poor."