‘Arbitrage’ taps ’70s style, current events

Courtesy PhotoOn the set: Richard Gere

It’s no surprise that Nicholas Jarecki’s excellent feature directorial debut “Arbitrage” looks and feels like a 1970s film.

“Arbitrage” tells the grown-up story of a hedge fund manager, Robert Miller (Richard Gere), fighting to save his fortune while trying to cover up a fatal accident.

Jarecki, recently in The City to promote “Arbitrage,” which opens today, says he was just 15 when he read Sidney Lumet’s book “Making Movies” and decided to become a director. He became fascinated with ’70s films such as Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon,” as well as “The Godfather” and “Chinatown.”

But after attending New York University film school, he couldn’t find work. He decided to interview 20 film directors about their first experiences and publish the results as a book (“Breaking In”).

Writing the book taught him that filmmaking is “not for the faint of heart. You had to be so committed to this that only your death would prevent you from making a film,” he says.

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Afterward, he followed director James Toback (another ’70s icon) on a film shoot of the documentary “The Outsider.”

Jarecki settled down to penning scripts, and wrote 10 that went nowhere. An 11th, “The Impostors,” was made into a 2009 movie, but was drastically different from what Jarecki had written.

Beginning his 12th, with an understanding of the business world through a former job as a computer engineer, he read about the economic collapse and at first considered writing a story about a Bernie Madoff-like figure.

“He was too limited as a character,” Jarecki says. “So I went back to the classic Greek tradition and tried to create a flawed hero who was once a great man. His hubris gets the better of him.”

After accepting the role, Gere and other cast members began rehearsals and rewriting.

“We all stayed in my apartment for a month. Richard would make tea. They’d be talking, I’d be typing,” he says. “It gave us time to make these relationships seem real.”

Jarecki’s advice to them was: “I want you to do what you would do. I’ve seen this movie in my head. I’m bored of it, frankly. We’re here to make a new movie. I want to see your movie.”

Above all, Jarecki insists “Arbitrage” is not an “issue film.”

“I’m here for you to have a good time,” he says. “We had a screening with people yelling at the screen. I grew up watching 42nd Street films, and it was so gratifying to see that.”

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