Signs not good, movie not bad
In a world where there are a millions of film reviews at the fingertips of anyone with a computer or a phone, it can pay to get a second opinion.
I was reminded of that fact this week when I saw the new Richard Gere thriller Arbitrage.
Somewhere along the line I spotted a less than flattering review of the film, the two-star rating lodged in my brain and I found myself feeling less than enthusiastic about seeing it.
One of the reasons it stuck was that from a distance Arbitrage looks an unlikely winner.
A solid actor despite his limited range, Gere hasn't made a decent film for ages and it's been a long time between drinks for co-stars Susan Sarandon and Tim Roth as well.
Then there was the fact that its writer and director, Nicholas Jarecki, hadn't made a feature film before and the poster is rubbish.
But guess what? Arbitrage is really good.
According to thefreedictionary.com, an arbitrage is when someone "buys securities on one market for immediate resale on another in order to profit from a price discrepancy".
The title's somewhat loose relationship with the film is that it concerns a Wall St hot shot named Robert Miller, played by Gere, whose ethics in his financial dealings and his personal life leave little to be desired.
Duplicitous, corrupt, superior and with a sense of entitlement the size of an aircraft carrier, Miller is the sort of fat cat that got the world into the financial mess it's in today.
Arbitrage opens with Miller about to seal the deal on the sale of his company.
He has cooked the books and is desperate to get the business sold before anyone notices and he ends up in jail for fraud.
Complicating matters are the fact his daughter Brooke, the company's chief financial officer, is starting to take a keen interest in some dubious numbers and his mistress Julia, played by former French supermodel Laetitia Casta, is getting sick of playing second fiddle to his wife Ellen, played by Susan Sarandon.
Throw in a disastrous car crash and life starts getting rather tricky for Miller.
For a guy who is a committed Buddhist and a bit of a peacenik, Gere has always been good playing deeply materialistic, morally ambiguous men.
Miller is one of his best roles to date and Gere sinks his teeth into the character with relish.
It's a top-class performance from the 63-year-old who fills Miller with charm and arrogance but leavens the mix with just enough internal conflict to make him interesting and even a little bit sympathetic.
Sarandon and Roth do good work and particularly impressive are newcomers Brit Marling as Brooke and Nate Parker as Jimmy, a young man whom Miller enlists to help him get out a jam.
Jarecki marks himself as a film maker to watch with a smart yet accessible screenplay and confident, albeit unspectacular, work behind the camera.
None of it is especially original but overall, Arbitrage represents a good investment.
Bottom line: much better than you'd think.
The Marlborough Express