Gere Shines in Jarecki’s Latest Screenplay

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Richard Gere’s latest starring vehicle is not the first thriller ever centered on the business world.  But it is a well written and equally well acted performance.  Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki’s script moves at a pace that is just enough to keep the attention of his intended audiences throughout the near two hour course of the story.  Jarecki makes things even better both for himself and for audiences as his script doesn’t allow itself to get bogged down in a bunch of technical business jargon and unnecessary extraneous drama that would have otherwise caused audiences to want to fast forward through its near two-hour run time.  A look at any other movie based in the business world shows how far too many movies within this sub genre get too serious about themselves, and thus lose their audiences as a result.  Jarecki hasn’t done that here.  Rather he’s made a movie that’s both believable and accessible to audiences because he has managed to find the just right balance between story and acting.  Speaking of acting, veteran actor Richard Gere shines in the story’s lead role of high powered businessman, Robert Miller.    

Gere’s acting goes a long way toward making Arbitrage a success.  He shows his veteran chops yet again here, expertly interpreting the script as he worked with Jarecki.  The script’s strong writing and equally strong acting both on the part of Gere and his co-stars help the near two-hour movie proceed smoothly without slipping up save perhaps for the story’s final moments.  It is the final moments of the story that might leave some audiences scratching their heads as it ends somewhat abruptly.  That aside, the rest of the story keeps audiences fully engaged.  Getting back to the acting, in what seems like a career comprised mainly of rom-coms and romantic dramas, it’s nice to see Gere step up to the plate and take on a more serious role again.  He both has the look and the persona to have taken on Miller’s role.  His take on Miller really does its part to pull viewers in and make the story believable. This is especially the case as co-star Susan Sarandon does very little to help move the story, despite her star status.  In her defense though, she isn’t really utilized very much in the course of the story.     

The crux of Arbitrage rests in what happens to high powered businessman Robert Miller (Richard Gere) after a series of events is set in motion that nearly push him to the brink.  After accidentally causing the death of his mistress in a wreck, he is pursued by the police.  Given, this is a tried and true plot.  It’s been used in different fashions time and again.  But it still manages to work in this case.  To make matters worse for Miller, his unethical and somewhat illegal financial dealings lead to even more problems for him.  Though it seems like that element becomes secondary to the investigation surrounding the death of Miller’s mistress.  Miller’s story is not the first of its kind brought to the big screen.  But there’s no denying that despite the story’s abrupt ending and other minor issues, it makes for one of Gere’s best performances in ages next to perhaps that of his work in The Mothman Prophecies.  It’s no surprise that it has garnered Gere a Golden Globe nomination for his acting.  The only question left is will he take home the trophy.  And for that matter will it be enough to garner him an Oscar nod, too?  That’s all anyone’s guess.  Nonetheless, his acting alone is enough to make Arbitrage a movie worth at least one watch from 2012.

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Les Miserables Not 2012’s Best, But Close To It

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Adapting classical literature for the big screen is one of Hollywood’s most time honored traditions.  Countless books have been adapted for the silver screen since the industry’s Golden Era.  Just as common for movie studios to do is to adapt stage plays that have themselves been adapted from books.  So as common as this practice is even now in Hollywood’s modern era, it takes a lot to make a movie of this fashion stand out in today’s overly crowded movie market.  Enter the newest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables.

The latest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption is one of the best movies of 2012.   It isn’t the year’s best.  But it does come close as it struggles with at least two glaring issues.  Those issues are the movie’s scene transitions and its general cinematography.  Much of the cinematography issue goes hand in hand with the problematic scene transitions.  Though there’s just as much problem with this movie’s shooting style not directly linked to the transitions in question.  Despite having issues with shooting and scene transitions, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives.  And those positives are many.

The most obvious problem weighing down this latest adaptation of Les Miserables is its shooting style (I.E. its cinematography).  Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) makes a valiant attempt to bring out as much of the emotion as possible from each scene with his shooting style.  The problem is that he tried too hard.  Throughout the story’s near three-hour run time, this shooting style is so consistent that it could potentially leave audiences feeling somewhat dizzy and even confused.  The cameras spin, cut, and make every other possible transition so much that it leaves audiences not knowing where they are going to go next.  It happens so much that it would be no surprise if it leaves some audiences so bothered by it that it makes audiences contemplate just walking out because they can’t take feeling the way which they feel.  The issue with the shooting style is just the tip of the iceberg for this movie’s problems.  To make matters worse, the shooting style is at times linked directly to its problematic scene transitions.

Anyone who has seen Les Miserable live on stage knows that while they take time, the scene transitions are smooth enough to keep track of exactly what’s going on in the story.  The case with the latest on-screen adaptation is the polar opposite of the stage play.  The scene transitions in this version happen so fast that viewers almost need a program to keep up with what’s happening.  This is one of the areas in which Hooper obviously struggled to do honor to the legacy established by this timeless classic.  Rather than making smooth transitions, it felt almost as if much of the movie was just a load of scenes tied together with jump cut edits.  Add in that problematic shooting style, and audiences get a work that felt anything but fluid.  Rather it felt like each scene was piecemealed together.  The two factors together made the movie noticeably less enjoyable than it could have been, despite the outstanding performance on the part of both Jackman and co-star Anne Hathaway.

While Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Get Smart, The Princess Diaries) isn’t technically a veteran in the acting business, she surprisingly proved herself in the role of Fantine.  Her chops as a singer were the most impressive part of her performance.  The emotion with which she sang made her portrayal fully believable.  There are those who have alleged that she was doing little more than simply hamming it up for the cameras.  But that obviously isn’t the case.  Considering her previous roles, this could finally be the one to catapult her to the upper echelons of the movie industry.  And while he is already in the businesses’ upper echelons, the choice of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was common sense considering his current track record both on stage and screen.  He carried the movie on his shoulders.  Watching his moment of redemption at the story’s end will leave any viewer with more than just a tear in his or her eye.  Perhaps the only poor choice in casting this movie was that of Russell Crowe.  Crowe’s portrayal of Inspector Javert worked on the superficial level.  He is old enough that he looked the part.  But his general performance simply was not believable.  Luckily that was about the only poor choice in casting this take on the time honored classic.  That being the case, it is no surprise that this take on Les Miserables has been nominated for a handful of Golden Globes.  And it would be no surprise if it makes the Oscar nod list more than once, too.

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Philip Sayblack can be contacted at psayblack@wnct.com