Skip to main content

You think money's gonna fix this?


Arbitrage
(2012)

Gimlet-eyed Richard Gere, sans hamster, delivers a typically focused performance as a hedge fund manager whose professional and personal lives catch up with him. As usual, the actor is given to a mildly constipated performance; you’re never quite sure if he’s a master of subdued underplaying (read, stiff) or simply bored with the whole thing. But those tiny eyes ensure that he can never simply be a nice guy. Nicholas Jarecki’s film slots comfortably into the small financial crisis subgenre, but he disappointingly favours narrative fireworks over literate analysis.


It’s not that there’s anything very wrong in having a traditional suspense structure to hang his tale on; a determined detective (Tim Roth) investigates the scene of an auto accident Gere has deserted and attempted to cover up (he leaves his dead girlfriend in the car, desperate to preserve the secrecy of his affair from his family and to ensure that the projected sale of his firm to a big bank goes ahead). The problem is that the thriller element is only so-so at best, deriving its tension from oh-so familiar plot developments and interrogations (knowing that Jarecki was inspired by the De Niro-Pacino diner scene in Heat only serves to highlight how far short of a real master class he falls here). By the time a prosecution is hanging on a piece of very obviously manufactured evidence, we’ve long since started to call into question the director’s choices.


Jarecki, as first time writer-director (he also furnished the screenplay for the lousy Bret Easton Ellis adaptation The Informers), does a better job as director. He shoots clearly and precisely, and has a firm grip on the trajectory of his narrative. Jarecki’s parents worked in the investment field, meaning that he’s drawing on what he knows, so it’s a little disappointing he doesn’t develop this world more fully. We learn early on that Gere has hidden a bad investment, and that he’s attempting to keep things fudged for as long as it takes the deal to go through. But Jarecki consistently soft-pedals the intricacies of the finance world, perhaps fearful that he will lose his audience.


Margin Call had the confidence to get down to the nuts and bolts of the economic crisis. Gere’s Bernie Madoff with a twinge of conscience is consistently much too filtered through his domestic and legal problems for the exploration to be other than oblique. Jarecki has loaded the dice dramatically, and it has the effect of taking the weight off what Gere actually does for a living. It’s just some dodgy finance stuff; that’s all we really need to know. Added to that, his family hold key positions with the firm so when the truth comes out it becomes about the devastating effect this has on his daughter (Brit Marling); meaty for the actors but a cop out for the subject matter. Jarecki chooses to conclude business in the same manner, further blunting any possibilities of commentary on the capitalist machine.


There’s an expectedly fine turn from Susan Sarandon as Gere’s wife and a great one from Nate Parker as the young man Gere calls when he’s in a straight. This is actually a strong plot thread, Gere willing to use and manipulate the only black guy he knows (as Parker puts it) in order to get his own way. The problem is that it further lends weight to the feeling that Jarecki’s world is a fiction, led by plot contrivance rather than substance. Still, it’s fun to see Jimmy Grant (Angel from The Rockford Files) as Gere’s attorney.


I’m sure Jarecki will pay off on the promise he shows here in due course. He does seem to have a slightly inflated opinion of his talents, if the end result is anything to go by (he was such a whizz kid prodigy that he advised on computer hacking on Hackers, don’t you know). And resisting the urge to compare himself to Orson Welles might be wise. But if he can eschew storylines beholden to over-calculated dramatics he could come up with something special.

***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute (2018)
(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.