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Home » Culture and Criticism

Arbitrage: No money down

Submitted by on December 23, 2012 – 5:22 PM5 Comments


Apparently, Arbitrage is getting some Oscars notice. True, said “notice” may consist primarily of its own PR team, but Couch Baron and I decided to check it out, mostly to see if yet another “high-finance thriller” would prove as clueless about both high finance and thrills as Margin Call. Bad news: it’s a limp, weirdly structured misfire that doesn’t know what it is or how people talk.

What we talked about appears below.

Couch Baron: So we do have a DVD case description for Arbitrage, or are we going in blind?

Sarah D. Bunting: Basically we’re going in blind. EW‘s Dave Karger liked it sans ellipses.

Couch Baron: I do like how the DVD quote “unwittingly” points out that Gere’s never gotten an Oscar nom.

SDB: It’s already got Margin Call beat on costuming. Gere’s tie looks like it cost more than my mom.

Couch Baron: Well, Maria Bartiromo (sp?) actually knows the attire. Maybe they hired her as wardrobe consultant as well.

SDB: Is that Eigeman? Good sign.

Couch Baron: Indeed.

SDB: The vagueness of this initial dialogue does not fill me with confidence. It’s like The Spanish Prisoner — “the process,” e.g.

Couch Baron: I know. It’s like the 30 Rock where they pre-tape a tribute to a disaster that hasn’t happened yet. A song with something about how touched they were “when the thing that happened, happened.” …Hackneyed thoughts about the meaning of family, using tired business metaphors? Check!

SDB: My dad’s toast at my brother’s rehearsal dinner featured a quote from Larry Summers. His was quite touching, though. This is how a lot of them really talk.

Couch Baron: Fair. Your dad probably chugged a beer at the end of it, though.

SDB: He may have. It was a hot day. …”Why sell our company?” Well, Miss Exposition…

Couch Baron: Okay, do fathers and daughters lean in that close for meaningful chats?

SDB: Not in my corner of WASP-land.

Couch Baron: That office is bigger than most apartments; back it up.

SDB: Yeah, no snuggling during the backstory. …Oh, the pissy mistress. Do actual non-fiction mistresses get what “he’s married” means, logistically?

Couch Baron: “Oh, you had family commitments. Knowing that, it’s perfectly normal for me to be surprised.”

SDB: Next time “surprise” her with some orthodonture. …Oh, brother. Forbidden sex with icing and weird wind-chime music.

Couch Baron: Look, there’s no need for icing on the suit. His drycleaner is doing well enough as it is.

SDB: I…am already lost. He sold the company with margin funds in esc…row?

Couch Baron: Possibly because Thick Bifocals apparently lent Gere $412 million to pass an audit, which is felony fraud? What’s in it for Thick Bifocals?

SDB: The vig? I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking. (Thick Bifocals is Larry Pine, who is the go-to HITG! for this kind of role.)

Couch Baron: Right. Couldn’t pull his name.

SDB: Wait, so it’s a merger?

Couch Baron: Oh, the typical wife cluelessly asking awkward questions about finances while the husband evades. Never seen that one.

SDB: I’d have more invested — as it were — if the film were a little clearer on what the finances actually are doing here.

Couch Baron: Okay, the mistress also doesn’t have a grasp of business meetings.

SDB: Well, she’s French.


SDB: Now he’s downtown to kiss up to his coked-up Quaker-graveyard-teeth girlfriend. Seriously, guys like this aren’t going to deal with shit like that.

Couch Baron: Wait, is she like a Wal-Mart greeter for high-end galleries?

SDB: Wait so but she OWNS the gallery. And now he’s drinking insomnia scotch in the…bathroom diner in his house?

Couch Baron: I’m so lost already.

SDB: And why would she have her own land line saved as “Julie” on her own phone.

Couch Baron: Also, Wonder Woman bracelets.

SDB: And why is he being such a girl?

Couch Baron: God, her teeth are worse than his.

SDB: “You’re here when it’s convenient for you to be here.” THAT’S WHAT AN AFFAIR IS, ASS.

Couch Baron: That oversized leather belt she’s wearing is just another thing I don’t understand.

SDB: Oh my God, Zhhhhulie. Read the fucking manual. They don’t leave their wives. Also, what does this have to do with arbitrage? …24 minutes. I’m surprised it took that long but it is now necessary for me to begin drinking. …OH GOD NOT THE VINTAGE MERCEDES!!

Couch Baron: HATE CRIME. Oh good, she’s dead.

SDB: Aaaaaand flambed as well.

Couch Baron: Where were they going that he could flip his car and have no one around for miles?

SDB: And that has a working pay phone? …TIM ROTH! Is there hope?

Couch Baron: Dubious. Wow, this conversation trying to establish that this is a secret errand is like the “Who’s On First” bit.

SDB: Totally. “Who cares?” “SECOND BASE!” …Was Jimmy’s father a fixer of some sort? And can he work on the script?

Couch Baron: You know, for someone who’s supposed to handle this much money, Gere’s character doesn’t exactly handle stress well. (Maybe it’s the script.)

SDB: A trashcan fire. Indoors. This is a Forbes cover boy?

Couch Baron: Gere, I’m no doctor, but it seems likely you’re bleeding internally, so maybe a hospital once this evidence-burning bit is over?

SDB: And the wife is really this clueless? What does this movie want to be about?

Couch Baron: I know. “I went to get some ice cream.” Isn’t that like No. 2 on the “How You Know Your Husband’s Having An Affair” list of excuses?

SDB: It’s like “I went for a walk.” Only in movies do people accept that without question.

Couch Baron: I love how this guy is trying to impress upon him that he might be linked to the accident that occurred in, unless I’m mistaken, his own vehicle.

SDB: What just…what?

Couch Baron: “You think we’re dealing with a fucking idiot?” Well, based on what I’ve seen so far?

SDB: Who still uses the in-limo phone?

Couch Baron: I’ve seen characters on Ryan Murphy shows deal with stress better than this crack financial executive.

SDB: And social hygiene films less clonky with exposition. “Dad. This. Doesn’t. Make sense. There’s four hundred. Million dollars missing.” Thanks, Log Lady.

Couch Baron: I mean, beyond that, no one notices how sweaty and squirrely he’s acting?

SDB: Tim Roth…at first I thought he was acting drunk. Now I think he is drunk.

Couch Baron: So wait, was it her car? And he was driving it?

SDB: He’s the man.

Couch Baron: “She wasn’t a awt staw.”

SDB: In this scene, Gere is actually acting the part a little better; condescending Jedi. Except for totally not having a cover story for the giant cut on his face, that is.

Couch Baron: I mean, I hate to keep harping on the same thing when there’s so much else to harp on, but no one who’s this bad a liar would get this far in this industry.

SDB: Did that detective just say “West Egg Road”? Another instance where the movie doesn’t know what it is?

Couch Baron: Crime thriller? Financial drama? Poorly-acted unintentional comedy?

SDB: Mid-life-crisis roman a clef?

Couch Baron: I think Tim Roth is about to fall over.

SDB: Either this is the most brilliant homage to Vincent D’Onofrio ever acted, or it’s…something very very terrible and boring.

Couch Baron: This kid Jimmy in that one scene exhibited a better grasp of police and legal procedure than the rest of the characters put together.

SDB: Querns!

Couch Baron: Things are looking up, just for his voice.

SDB: …People, Couch Baron just made a Lights Out reference. It’s that bad.

Couch Baron: I LIVED IT.

SDB: More like “Shites Out,” amirite?

Couch Baron: THANK YOU. Since we’re on the subject, though, the actress who played the sister was hilarious on an ep of “30 Rock,” so there’s life after it.

SDB: “I got business troubles, you understand?” Who wrote this dialogue, the fifth grade at the Jimmy Cagney K12?

Couch Baron: So he can pay this kid $2 million in the blink of an eye, but he’s having financial difficulties that he can’t solve?

SDB: That’s probably why.

Couch Baron: He doesn’t seem to have any idea how business deals work, either.

SDB: On top of this Freudian fuckery in the office, the word “possession” was misspelled. By the police.

Couch Baron: This is TERRIBLE.

SDB: Guy, if you need to ask who “they” is, ain’t no way you run a shoeshine stand, much less a company in this sector.

Couch Baron: There’s a deal he’s been working on. He does possibly shady things to make it work. He faces hurdles and entanglements. Terrible writing on that part aside, why on earth would you complicate it with this random unrelated death that he then covers up?

SDB: Unrelated, but not unwelcome, which presents even more problems vis-a-vis the audience’s investment in the investigation’s outcome.

Couch Baron: Well, fair. But if he’d committed murder (of her, preferably) in an effort to move the deal forward, it would at least make sense from a story perspective. I mean, they did this a lot more effectively in Season One of The O.C.

SDB: And would make the character more believable as a lizard-blooded captain of industry.

Couch Baron: YES.

SDB: This is like Final Analysis, but with Gere in a different job, and much more boring.

Couch Baron: So now, at Minute Almost-An-Hour, we hear the first actual mention of arbitrage. (It’s explained terribly, but still.)

SDB: And the CIO apparently never checked a spreadsheet…until now.

Couch Baron: Why does this awful park fight scene look like it was filmed in front of a greenscreen?

SDB: Whoever wrote it doesn’t understand father-daughter relationships very well, either. …That was some silent-movie shit right there.

Couch Baron: “I am SPINNING ON MY HEEL AND WALKING AWAY.” …Should Tim Roth be driving after the seventeen beers he’s obviously had?

SDB: And he’s lounging in the seat like he’s poolside — can he even see over the wheel?

Couch Baron: Telephone book, Tim.

SDB: Antabuse, Tim. …Wait, who met with the estate lawyer? Oh wait I don’t give a shit.

Couch Baron: I guess it’s not a good sign that I don’t know any character’s name yet.


Couch Baron: So Gere figured the GPS in the phones could be tracked, but he doesn’t know about tollbooth cameras?

SDB: I like this Nate Parker kid a lot; it’s a shame he’s getting saddled with this…whatever this is.

Couch Baron: Yeah, he’s young enough that he’s still trying to make this good.

SDB: Hee, that’s exactly it. Sarandon’s like, whatever, the check already cleared. I’ll just hold this little dog.

Couch Baron: You’re not supposed to drink on sets for insurance reasons, but I have the feeling the UPM on this was like, “Fuck it.”

SDB: Oh for the love of shit: crying-over-the-casket moment for Gere. Who is a public figure. Being investigated for a manslaughter and in the middle of a merger. Getting all damp at his mistress’s funeral. Mmmkay.

Couch Baron: Yes, good way to convince people that you had a mere business relationship with her. He’s practically climbing into the coffin with her.

SDB: This scene in the home gym is agonizing.

Couch Baron: Hey, Susan Sarandon, maybe you should ask your husband about what your husband has been up to?

SDB: Do these writers have parents?

Couch Baron: And if so, do they wear such weird workout attire?

SDB: There’s something about these parent-child interactions that seems so guessed at. And: seriously. Maybe a full brassiere for the Stairmaster? …Shut up, Graydon Carter. Really? Just gonna horse-trade prices in the restaurant?

Couch Baron: So…now Gere and the buyer are haggling over the price with less subtlety than you’d find in a bazaar? (Ha ha — jinx, basically.)

SDB: I was just going to make the carpet-salesman comparison. I can’t help thinking, again, about Wall Street, and how Oliver Stone actually got how these people talk, and act, and wear their pocket squares, despite the horrendous dialogue.

Couch Baron: It’s true; I’m not saying it’s an easy world to understand or imitate, but: consultants.

SDB: I just don’t think it’s that hard to portray. Maybe actual deals, you need some help, but you could at least get the shirts right. …OH NOW WHAT. Don’t get our hopes up, Snare Drum o’ Suspense. So this apartment is supposed to be a shithole, but it looks like a $2500/mo spot in Carroll Gardens.

Couch Baron: So we’re supposed to care about the photo being faked?

SDB: “What’s an Applebee’s?” I don’t know, Robert. WHAT’S A CHARACTER BEAT? I wish I were at Applebee’s.

Couch Baron: They have big margaritas.

SDB: What about their show-don’t-tell-tinis. How big are those.

Couch Baron: I love this lawyer whose normal speaking voice sounds like it’s filtered electronically.

SDB: At least Margin Call was infuriating enough to keep me awake. The initial absurdity here has ebbed into a stagnant second act. Sarandon needs to rock an AK-47 all The-Bride-stylez to save this shit.

Couch Baron: So now he’s on a righteous crusade to prove he was set up…when he actually committed the crime? Is this character development?

SDB: And he didn’t commit a crime except covering it up!

Couch Baron: I mean, I’m saying!

SDB: Dude fell asleep! And I can’t really blame him; this is some non-sweeps-Criminal-Intent barrel-scraping right here.

Couch Baron: This judge is not having any of this, which I appreciate.

SDB: Is Roth going to be held in contempt for that Boston accent he’s suddenly rocking? Other than by us, I mean. …Really? Just now learning after 20 years on the force that rich people get special treatment? REEEEALLLLYYYYY?!!!1

Couch Baron: Of all the half-baked subplots in this film, the “Tim Roth is the 99%” one is the half-bakiest.

SDB: It’s not even quarter-baked. It’s still thawing on the counter. …Why is Sarandon wearing my prom dress?

Couch Baron: Probably because she’s drunk half a gallon of Scotch.

SDB: Not the good stuff, either. That’s Cutty Sark decision-making.

Couch Baron: Now we’re back to family “drama.”

SDB: Too bad the family in question, The Sopranos, did this subplot so much better.

Couch Baron: Men like this are not henpecked like this, I’m sorry.

SDB: No, they’re not. And the wives don’t have these spasms of conscience, either.

Couch Baron: I do appreciate that she’s like, “I’ll take it all, thanks.”

SDB: No way does Susan Gutfreund decide that this is the bridge too far. …”Fuck the DNA, I’m sick of this shit!” Me too, Dickie. Meeee too.

Couch Baron: It’s unfortunate Sarandon has her moment of triumph while wearing that dress.

SDB: I seriously thought we were going to find out she had been running the company the whole time — which would have been awesome, since he does not have the temperament.

Couch Baron: So now the people who bought the company have their “Forget it, Jack, It’s Arbitragetown” moment?

SDB: HA. I kind of liked that shot of the back of his head, but this movie doesn’t seem to know its own strengths. And there are really only two to keep track of. …Would the daughter really be this much of an adolescent about it? …Yaaaay, it’s over.

Couch Baron: HA HA HA it didn’t know how to end as much as it didn’t know how to do anything else.

SDB: I bet they picked this pretentious Bjork song first and worked backwards from there. Well, “worked.”

Couch Baron: That was roundly terrible. Even Tim Roth was awful.




  • Jen S 1.0 says:


    Couch Baron, please marry me. Or at least live in my living room and take the place of my cable.

  • Ray says:

    You two SO need to lay this down as an audio track. Only then do I think I could watch this film.

  • scout1222 says:

    OKAY THEN. This will be marked as “not interested” on Netflix.

  • LisaJo885 says:

    Reading the transcript above makes me want to go spin up “GBC” on the ol’ iPod. So I will. Thanks! And, hysterical.

  • RJ says:

    So this discussion sort of leaves me wanting to see just how bad it is. I’m going to fight this feeling until I can’t fight this feeling any more. :)

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