"Arbitrage" — Greed is good, until it isn't anymore, in this guilty-pleasure thriller for these tough economic times. In directing his first feature, writer and documentarian Nicholas Jarecki shows great command of tone — a balance of sex, danger and manipulation with some insiderish business talk and a healthy sprinkling of dark humor to break up the tension. His film is well-cast and strongly acted, and while it couldn't be more relevant, it also recalls the decadence of 1980s Wall Street, shot in 35mm as it is, with a synth-heavy score. "Arbitrage" is a lurid look at a lavish lifestyle that allows us to cluck disapprovingly while still vicariously enjoying its luxurious trappings. Richard Gere stars as billionaire hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller. As he turns 60, Robert would seem to have it all — yet he always wants more, and feels emboldened by the different set of rules and morals that seems to apply in his rarefied world. So he "borrows" $417 million from a fellow tycoon to cover a hole in his portfolio and make his company look as stable as possible as it's about to be acquired by a bank. And despite the loyalty and support of his smart, beautiful wife (Susan Sarandon), he has a hot (and hot-headed) French mistress on the side (former Victoria's Secret model Laetitia Casta) who runs in stylish, hard-partying art circles. Both these schemes explode in his face over the course of a few fateful days. Tim Roth, Brit Marling and Nate Parker co-star. R for language, brief violent images and drug use. 100 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"The Master" — Viewers hoping for a juicy expose of the supersecretive Church of Scientology might want to adjust their expectations just a tad. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has acknowledged that the cult leader of the film's title — played with great bluster and bravado by Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of his longtime players — was inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. And certain key phrases and ideas that are tenets of the church do show up in the film. And yet, the church — or rather, "The Cause," as it's known here — emerges relatively unscathed. Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd, whom his followers refer to as "Master," is commanding and calculating and sometimes even cruel, but the bond he forges with a wayward Joaquin Phoenix reveals his inquisitiveness, his generosity of spirit and a love that cannot be defined, teetering as it does between the paternal and the homoerotic. Meanwhile, Phoenix's character, the troubled, volatile and often inebriated Freddie Quell, seems at his happiest once he's safely ensconced within the group. But "The Master" isn't interested in anything so clear-cut as joy vs. misery. It's about the way people's lives intersect, if only briefly and perhaps without a satisfying sense of closure. Anderson, long a master himself of technique and tone, has created a startling, stunningly gorgeous film shot in lushly vibrant 65mm, with powerful performances all around and impeccable production design. But it's also his most ambitious film yet — quite a feat following the sprawling "Magnolia" and the operatic "There Will Be Blood" — in that it's more impressionistic and less adherent to a tidy three-act structure. R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language. 137 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic