ARBITRAGE THRILLER. Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth, Laetitia Casta. Directed by Nicholas Jarecki. Cert 15A
In director Nicholas Jarecki's debut movie we have an all too rare example of a decent thriller cloaked in a meticulously observed character study, delivered by a fine cast and featuring probably the finest performance of its leading man's career. So how come it completely tanked at the US box-office?
Well, one could argue that the studio's dream target demographic of 15-year-old males who'll provide repeat revenue to see comic book characters and CGI robots beating the crap out of each other just wouldn't respond to something as sophisticated as this – too much talking, dude – or that because of the damage caused to the world by those in high-finance it'd be hard to watch, or, indeed, in any way root for, one of those Masters of the Universe who'd brought so much distress to us all. Or it might just be that title.
When you have to look up what a film's title actually means (for the record it's a financial term meaning to buy and sell at the same time in order to gain an advantage in price difference) then you're fighting a losing battle, with potential punters left wondering whether they're about to see a film in foreign and probably going for the 'Sod it, let's go see Bruce Willis in the new Die Hard' option instead.
In fact, when you think about it, Gere's previous best performance, as a cocksure lawyer in the 1996 courtroom drama Primal Fear, was in a movie whose title sounded great but bore no relation whatsoever to the plot. Needless to say, it was a huge hit, so go figure.
Here, he's simply magnificent as Robert Miller, a fabulously wealthy hedge-fund trader who seems to have it all and is about to close a major deal to sell his company as he approaches his 60th birthday. Beneath the surface, however, all does not appear to be well, with his daughter and chief executive Brooke (Brit Marling) suspecting that some major numbers aren't quite adding up and matters coming to a head when Miller becomes involved in a serious incident with his high-maintenance mistress (Laetitia Casta) from which he rather unwisely scarpers.
There are clear echoes of The Bonfire of the Vanities in the latter subplot, with Miller trying desperately to maintain his calm veneer while a working-class detective (Tim Roth) senses that one of Wall Street's elite is up to no good and stalks his prey with relish. Around those basic, if undeniably solid, bones, Jarecki crafts a compelling portrait of the morality, or lack thereof, at play among the financial ruling classes. It's a role Gere was born to play, his cold charm and confident swagger holding fast even though his character faces impending ruin on every level.
With a great supporting cast and an outcome which remains in doubt right up to the final scene (and you can't say that about too many contemporary films) Arbitrage is an intelligent and extremely well-made movie which engages, entertains and has something to say for itself. It's just a pity that that title will probably dissuade a good number of its potential audience from actually going to see it.
SAFE HAVEN ROMANCE. Starring Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders. Directed by Lasse Halstrom Cert 12A
The Nicholas Sparks production line of schlock continues to gather momentum with the man who gave us The Notebook, The Last Song, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Loved One, to name but a handful penning, yet another by-the-numbers rom-dram in which heartache and tragedy eventually resolve themselves against the Miller Time glow of a North Carolina fishing port.
This time out the protagonists are Katie (Julianne Hough) and Alex (Josh Duhamel), with the former on the run from a violent incident in Boston while the latter, a widower with two cute kids, runs a hardware/grocery store in the aforementioned scenic coastal town. Can you guess what might happen? Blandly directed and indifferently acted, the only thing which differentiates Safe Haven from previous Sparks' outings is a reveal in the final act which goes beyond the realm of 'Ah lads!'and into territory which even makers of Mexican telenovellas would think twice about. Bonkers barely begins to describe it.
HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS FANTASTY. Starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Pihla Vitala. Directed by Tommy Wirkola. Cert 15A
It's rarely a good sign when a movie has spent the best part of a year being shunted around the release schedules, hidden from the media and only reluctantly unveiled less than 12 hours before it opens to the paying public.
Watching Jeremy Renner (a man with two Oscar nominations to his name, lest we forget) and the lovely Gemma Arterton having to tout Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters on a UK chat show last week one felt sorry for them, while still admiring their professionalism in somehow trying to justify what they clearly know is a truly, truly terrible piece of muck.
Writer/director Tommy Wirkola and executive producer Will Ferrell no doubt had a franchise in their sights when they set off on this adaptation of the brothers Grimm fairytale but the premise of Hansel and Gretel as grown-up bounty hunters slaying witches across mittel Europe in some undesignated part of the Middle Ages while brandishing automatic weapons and spouting sub-Tarantino profanities is simply too wrong-headed to work at all.
Cut to a merciful 88 minutes, the editing is so frantic as to render the action all but unwatchable while several sections which might have helped the plot make some sort of sense have clearly been left lying in an editing suite somewhere. Don't expect a sequel.
CAESAR MUST DIE DOCUMENTARY. Starring Giovanni Arcuri, Cosimo Rega, Salvatore Striano, Antonio Frasca. Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. Cert club
The veteran Taviani brothers scooped the Golden Bear at Berlin for this intriguing film, which blurs the lines between documentary and drama as prisoners at a maximum security facility outside Rome rehearse for a production of Julius Caesar.
At times, the film is so intricate that one begins to wonder whether the cast are actually actors playing the part of prisoners preparing for the play, such is the skill with which this economically told (77 minutes – go you Taviani boys!) story unfolds.