ALEX KEMP recommends a film that hits the cliché nail on the head.

alex kemp Arbitrage Brit Marling Nate Parker Richard Gere Susan Sarandon

A slick, sophisticated and handsome businessman who is the idol of his wife and children, yet manages to disguise his Machiavellianism and his affair behind a wall of money and power. A man whose dark side leads him ever deeper into the murky waters of corporate greed. A charming asshole. You know the type. You’ve met him in movies a thousand times before.

It would be very easy to dismiss Richard Gere’s performance as the corrupt hedge-fund manager Robert Miller in Arbitrage as just another replication of the production-line ‘charming asshole’. The whole movie, one might scornfully suggest, lacks any originality. It’s a typical cat and mouse thriller, in which the mouse is the fattest of the fat cats. Nothing new to see here…

And this criticism might have some weight, were it not for the fact that Arbitrage is so very well done. For a start, Gere’s performance is perfectly pitched; as sleek, dark and impenetrable as the tinted-windowed cars in which his character glides through the New York traffic. Now 63, Gere has taken on a silver-haired gentlemanly charm, which provides a great tension with the conspicuous hatefulness of his character. He manages to be both despicable and enticing. He is menacingly avuncular. It feels as if Gere has seldom been as well suited to a role, and he certainly delivers on that suitability.

The plot, though ultimately unsurprising, is interesting enough to deserve not to be spoiled in reviews; all that needs to be said is that Miller becomes embroiled in both professional and personal traumas from which he is unable to extricate himself. The more he lies, the more trapped he becomes, bringing innocents with him. Enter Susan Sarandon as Miller’s wife, Brit Marling as his daughter, and Nate Parker as a young black man from Harlem who is manipulated by Miller. Parker and Marling’s characters are probably the only people in the film with whom the audience can sympathise guilt-free. And – as is the film’s hammy cynicism – this is more to do with their naivety than their ethics.

Elsewhere, Tim Roth gives a brilliantly overblown performance as a hard-boiled, roguish police detective who is determined to bring down Miller. Roth’s New York drawl and hunched swagger make it evident that enjoyed playing the part a lot. It can’t have been a stretch, or a role that required much introspection, but clichés are often really fun to watch, so long as they are done well. Whilst the film loses some momentum in the final act, it’s the performances of Roth and Gere that make it so watchable. It is to the film’s credit that it resists the temptation to make its characters more likable as the film goes on. They are entertaining because they are delightfully corrupt, and to turn them cuddly in the final act would have been a misjudgement.

You could say that Arbitrage is particularly relevant right now, with its condemnation of corporate avarice. But it’s also very very old-fashioned – and it is on this point that the film will divide opinion. Some will sneer at its lack of originality and its hammy clichés. Others will recognise that when hammy clichés are executed as well as this, they deserve to be seen.