Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sky-High Gamble 'Arbitrage' Offers an Intriguing Tale of Financial Corruption and Moral Bankruptcy

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sky-High Gamble 'Arbitrage' Offers an Intriguing Tale of Financial Corruption and Moral Bankruptcy

Article excerpt

After Hal 9000 -- the human-like computer in Stanley Kubrick's "2001" -- murders all but one of the spaceship's crew, he reassuringly tells the lone survivor, "Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down, take a stress pill and think things over. I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal."

Hal and his chutzpah are not unlike Robert Miller -- the computer- like human in "Arbitrage." He's a supremely confident hedge-fund tycoon on the verge of completing a last big deal -- the sale of his whole trading empire -- before comfortable retirement. He is played by Richard Gere, looking much like Marcello Mastroianni these days in his silver-fox older age, with a teenager's libido and sex appeal to older and younger ladies alike.

The older lady in his life would be faithful wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon). The younger would be his hot, demanding, volatile mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta). Robert is deliriously in love with her, but she's in a state of coke-snorting rage at his constant lateness, postponement of the promised divorce, and at playing second fiddle in general.

It opens on his birthday dinner with his adoring family at their elegant home, where Robert hails and savors his role as patriarch. No one there is more adoring than daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), who's also the bright and upright chief investment officer of his wildly successful corporation. Brooke is his conscience, to the extent that he has one.

Everyone is blissfully ignorant of his affair. But soon enough, Robert's dubious business dealings and equally dubious dalliance will violently intersect at the worst possible time. And then, as Mother would say, there'll be tears.

Let us pause here, for a moment, to ponder the title term "arbitrage" -- a strange, fascinating, etymologically multifaceted word. Having read some 100 articles on Bernie Madoff, I still couldn't tell you what a Ponzi scheme is. Similarly, I've looked up the definition of arbitrage multiple times over the years and can never remember or sort out its connection to Arbeit (German for work), arbitrary, arbitrate or the nicely neologistic "arbit-rage" - - all of which facets relate to Robert.

Turns out it's from the Latin/French arbitrer (to judge), and as a financial term, it means the simultaneous buying and selling of securities or currencies in one international market for immediate resale in another, in order to profit from price discrepancies and/ or different rates of exchange. Try to remember that for your multiple-choice quiz down the line.

For Robert, it means big trouble in the bubble: He urgently needs to do something about an unsecured $400 million shortfall to cover the hedging of a very dangerous bet. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.