FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Shit Happens to Hedge Fund Heroes

by SAUL LANDAU

Since we will not learn in school the lessons about the 1% we ought to know, many of us rely on movies and TV, so that through images and sound we can form ideas of who the men were who screwed upp our economy. In Arbitrage, we see how How Hollywood conceives of a cinematic grammar into which we can analyze the nature of the people who sparked the the financial crisis. Nicholas Jarecki directed a film about a man who could model for the type of 1%er who helped destroy the US economy. Robert Miller (Richard Gere) could have starred in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. This billionaire hedge fund executive made a bad investment in a tempting (huge profits promised) Russian copper mine and then had his accountant falsify his company’s books to cover up the huge losses on his gamble.  No big deal, He’ll just sell the company, recoup the loss and even make a profit, so he can retire to enjoy his perfect life: a great wife (Susan Sarandon), two grown children and grandchildren, and a mistress he is in mad lust for, and elite recognition for his donation to charity.  All he needs is to pass a phony audit, so he can sell the company he has just compromised. And he has arranged for that as well, as his daughter will later discover.

But shit happens. On route with his concubine to a romantic weekend in the mountains, his eyes close while driving the babe to their rendezvous. She dies. He decides to run away and, to do this, he involves a young black man (Nate Parker), who owes him for favors he did for his father, his former chauffer, to drive him to safety. Enter the police.  Will the young black man testify against him (the cops traced the phone call Miller made to him from a nearby gas station) and destroy Miller’s image and his happy (on the surface) family?  Will the cops – trying to frame the young man as leverage to make him talk — actually nail the criminal financier for manslaughter, not financial hanky panky?

The film moves effortlessly as a legal thriller and an allegory. It’s not easy to keep viewers’ attention when dealing with complicated financial dealings, but Jarecki succeeds in maintaining movement and suspense. Arbitrage tells the story, Hollywood style, of the moral Hell in which US financial systems operate, also the context of the police drama where big bankers don’t get arrested for monkeying with the system they rule: the nation’s economy.

Arbitrage should enrage the viewer as it show us the reality behind the patter about Wall Street and the constant news references to Dow Jones industrial averages. Behind this silly jargon, we see, lies a complex network of legally dubious activity and a complete absence of ethics. Miller, honored by the establishment for his charitable work, is a criminal with no conscience. Hs  thinks only of himself while wearing the pretense of “community good guy” as his aura.

What arbitrager Miller did in the film resembles various bankers or investors who made bad decisions with other peoples’ money and spurred the economic crisis. Miller’s daughter (Brit Marling) who works in his office also gets involved as she inadvertently learns of his speculative malpractice, but she and his wife cover for him because money, as the film shows, can induce people to become moral schlemiels.

Miller’s poise and confidence helps him maintain the façade of normalcy, while juggling his mistress, mega-deals and happy family.

But swelling his company becomes a hassle because he can’t get a meeting the prospective buyer. Indeed, his financial troubles and zest to meet with the buyer to close the deal lead him to break his promise to attend his mistress’ art gallery opening. To assuage her fury, he proposes the romantic weekend that leads to the fatal accident.

Detective Bryer (Tim Roth), a pushy and disheveled New York cop solves the case – in his head – and to get Miller he tries to bully the young black man. Bryer closes in on the arbitrager, and the man supposedly wanting to buy Miller’s company becomes elusive. The tension grows.

What emerges is a Hollywood portrait of the modern villain. Gere’s character no longer resembles the one he played as the “Pretty Woman” millionaire. In “Arbitrage”, he portrays modern evil, a compelling looking man willing to do whatever it takes to help himself, in business and lust, but without social conscience or a sense of responsibility.

This façade of a philanthropic patriarch. who philanders as naturally as he dines with his family, emerges on screen as a realistic portrait of the kind of felon who could wreck the world economy and think only of saving himself as the world collapses around him. Realism, Hollywood style. Justice? Not in the “Arbitrage” script, nor in the reality of the US economy or justice system. Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered raids on marijuana distributors that have licenses, he’s prosecuted John Edwards and former Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens, all unsuccessfully, but has indicted none of the criminal bankers who broke the system. Will a film about this lapse of governmental action provoke the AG to arrest a real bad guy?

Saul Landau is the author of A Bush and Botox World (CounterPunch / AK Press).

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail