In the world of high finance, arbitrage (rhymes with "mirage") involves trading the same commodity between two markets where the price is different and keeping the change.

As a film title, it may lack marquee appeal but it's the perfect word to describe the kind of moral creative accounting that Robert Miller (Gere) uses to get through the bluff-and-call business meeting that is his life.

The dark knight at the centre of this sleek, shadowy thriller, Miller's a mega-rich Wall St titan whose adoring wife (Sarandon) helms his philanthropic endeavours. His daughter (Marling) is a brilliant market analyst who heads his senior management team.

He's about to make another few gazillion by selling his business, but by the time we find out that he's been cooking the books, we've seen that his impeccably stitched life is rather frayed around the edges.


He's two-timing his wife with a neurotic French artist (Casta), and when a car accident leaves him in a position a sharebroker might describe as seriously exposed, the risk needle moves right into the red zone.

Director Jarecki, who also wrote the screenplay, crowds the film with incident and complication - at times almost to a fault - but it all knits together handsomely.

When Miller turns for help to a young black man, Jimmy Grant (Parker), the son of a former chauffeur, whom he's taken under his wing, the way in which charity can corrode the currency of human relations suddenly comes sharply into focus.

As things unravel, the plot moves like someone walking just a little too fast for comfort, keeping us - and Miller - constantly off balance.

There's a whiff of Shakespearean tragedy about this film, although it's hard to discern any redeeming features among Miller's multiple tragic flaws.

He's amoral all right, but not in the caricatured way that Wall Street's Gordon Gekko was, even if he tells us early on that only five things matter in life - "M, O, N, E and Y."

"You think money's going to fix this?" Jimmy asks him at one point; "What else is there?" he replies, and it's not a question. He's incapable of seeing that in the war he's waging, the rules of engagement put his soul and the lives of others at risk.

Tim Roth has a superb turn as a dishevelled and disreputable Columbo-style detective but it's Gere's film and he does a fabulous job of being mesmerisingly watchable even as his teflon coating starts to peel.

It's a Bonfire of the Vanities for the world after Lehman Brothers, but it wears its deeper significance with remarkable lightness. Catch it if you can.

Stars: 4/5
Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth, Laetitia Casta, Nate Parker
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Running time: 102 mins
Rating: M (offensive language)
Verdict: Bonfire of the Vanities for 2012