From Liberty Valance to Daniel Plainview, Hollywood has always loved a good bastard, and Richard Gere’s powerful, deceitful, and charming New York City tycoon Robert Miller, the towering figure at the center of Nicholas Jarecki’s stirring Arbitrage, more than fits the bill. Miller dominates every dialogue-heavy scene with his Gordon Gekko-like presence and Machiavellian pragmatism, playing the virtuous, Mark Twain-quoting family man one minute, only to slither off and fuck his European art-collector mistress (Laetitia Casta) the next. A delicate balance of ego and illusion, his formidable public persona is founded on his outward projection of success, wealth, and loyalty. Arbitrage chronicles in fine detail the extended moment when this white-collar lion loses control of this juggling act.
A relentless Hollywood tearjerker, but one that reveals a great deal about George Miller the humanist. Being an M.D., Miller must have responded to the devastating material from more than just a filmmaking perspective. With Lorenzo’s Oil, he compassionately charts the slow and painful decline of a sweet young boy suffering from a brain disease called ADL, most decisively through an emphasis on self education (by his parents played by Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte) in the face of a disintegrating way of life (definite thematic parallels to the Mad Max Trilogy and Witches of Eastwick). For Miller, expertise of a certain environment (or disease in this case) equates to the best chance for survival, and in this particular work there’s a great respect for medical treatments, doctors, and the process of healing. Lorenzo’s Oil begins with a telling quote that could sum up this methodology and Miller’s filmography as a whole; “Life is in the struggle…triumph and defeat are in the hands of the Gods.” Whether its seen through the eyes of Mad Max, Lorenzo, or the little pig Babe, for George Miller the battle between man and nature is a never-ending process of highs and lows, hopes and failures, and the small joys of experience shine through these tense altercations. The end result, while always crucial and essential, seems to be more elusive and disappointing than the wonders of the process at hand, a paradox which seems both endlessly fascinating and frustrating.