Saturday, September 29, 2012

Corporate Mastermind in Peril Double Feature: Arbritage (B+) and Cosmopolis (C)

With an almost endless supply of wealth and political power, it's easy to despise the selective, authoritative citizens who belong to the 0.0001%: The protectors of unadulterated capitalism, and almighty masters of the universe. Because of well known greedy figureheads such as Donald Trump and the Koch Brothers, the public perception of the billionaire has gradually morphed into one of general aversion; even wealthy philanthropists such as Bill Gates are often criticized by a domestic population now cynical of anyone with an annual income over 1 million. Now, getting off my political soapbox, it has always been difficult by screenwriters, directors, and most importantly actors, to portray the ultra-affluent in a sympathetic light because of the almost unanimous negative bias against their kind. Many filmmakers have tried, but few have actually succeeded.

By random coincidence, over the last few days I have watched two movies which tie into this subject matter, but both take a different approach to the very similar material. On one side, we have Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage, which attempts to humanize the scheming and manipulative head of a failing international trade empire. Using the always reliable Richard Gere as his lead, Jarecki hopes to understand the internal logic these prosperous men use when conducting their entirely self-beneficial operations, and the personal consequences involved. On the other, there's David Cronenberg's latest trip to the big screen, Cosmopolis, which instead depicts the egotism and slight insanity that can stem from an overabundance of money. Two separate examinations of tragedy in the same social class? It must be time for a Corporate Mastermind In Peril Double Feature!


In his feature length directorial debut, newcomer Nicholas Jarecki has constructed a compelling corporate thriller, replete with unexpected twists and turns, and an intentional indecisiveness toward the differences between right and wrong. It also serves as a superb reminder of lead actor Richard Gere's dramatic range and skill; as he has largely been absent from the big screen since at least 2006. Still desperately trying to manipulate the world around him, even when fully realizing he no longer has the power and authority to do so, Gere gives a powerhouse performance as Robert Miller; the reckless corporate mastermind of miniature trading empire amid an illegally hidden financial collapse. For years, he has concealed multiple affairs from his seemingly loving spouse (Susan Sarandon) and trusting children through little white lies, and has hid his corporation's impending bankruptcy from unsuspicious stockholders by tinkering with the income records. However, after inadvertently killing his younger mistress in a car accident and fleeing the scene, the house of lies he has been gradually building his entire life begins to tumble down in less than one tumultuous week.

The film can be best described as a gradual crescendo in intensity, with brief accent marks in between to keep the audience completely engaged. Beginning with an intentionally languid opening act to introduce us to the characters, and Miller's generally mundane life. After the titular accident, Jarecki slowly ratchets the tension to full force. From then on, the viewing experience is similar to playing Jenga with tower with only a few blocks left before its inevitable collapse. Through gradually intensifying interactions between Gere and the rest of the ensemble, and adding consequence upon consequence for his misdeeds, Arbritage gradually documents the inevitable political and social demise of this all important figure. It's a complex, well acted first feature, and I'm very interested as to what Nicholas Jarecki does next.

Grade: B+


Alienating and pretentious in equal measure, with added emphasis placed on heady philosophical ideas,  director David Cronenberg's adaptation of Don Delilo's 2003 novel of the same name is an offbeat enigma of moderate proportions. Giving very little exposition into the characteristics of cyber capitalism, one of the few prominent elements of the feature, Cronenberg essentially pushes the audience off the high dive into a deep swimming pool, and not only assumes we can swim, but can perform a 50m freestyle in record time. Though I generally support directors and screenwriters with desires to push the boundries of cinema using unique and creative storytelling, a fine line must be drawn once originality gradually fades into the incomprehensible. Cronenberg has a clear vision in Cosmopolis, but even when reflecting on the film days later, I'm still not completely sure what it is.

However, despite a convoluted script, the acting is overall very good. Robert Pattinson surprises as the egotistical billionaire playboy slowly coming to grips with his own overprivileged existence, as does Sarah Gadon as his equally detached, intentionally robotic spouse. Besides these two constant players, the other characters work themselves into the story similar to guests on a late night talk show. Because the majority of the film takes place inside Pattinson's luxurious limousine, the supporting cast gradually enters than leaves the stretched car after a conversation lasting anywhere from 2-10 minutes. Actors included here are: Abdul Ayoola, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Norton, and Jay Baruchel. Baruchel and Binoche leave the greatest impact, but the performances are overall very good.

Despite some fine acting from a game cast, Cosmopolis is simply too cryptic and convoluted to fully enjoy and appreciate. Maybe if someone who fully understood the feature explained it to me, my opinion might change, but until then, this is one limo ride you may want to turn down.

Grade: C

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