Finally, what would Sundance be without a couple of business sector films — ARBITRAGE, a melodrama, and PRICE CHECK, a light comedy with aspirations to insight.
ARBITRAGE Nick Jarecki's film starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon is the latest in the growing business-porn genre.
The more somber of the two, Nick Jarecki's Arbitrage is supposed to be ripped from today's headlines, but it feels dated and unsophisticated. It's the latest example of the business-porn genre: Richard Gere cuts a Bernie Madoff swath across a glittering 21st-century robber baron's ill-got and tumescently displayed gains. He's smooth, he's rich, he's got too many balls in the air and big ones where they count. The camera lingers on all the people it condemns — Gere, his wife (played by Susan Sarandon), his daughter (last year's It-girl, Brit Marling of Another Earth), and Tim Roth as somebody's idea of NYPD — as they shove the swollen genitalia of wealth in your face until you sweat bullets. You could handle wealth better, we all could, so why is it wasted on Gere? Or so you think, before the film slaps you in the face and lets you feel good about being middle class and underwater in your mortgage.
The Jareckis are Sundance and financial-circle regulars. Nick's brother Andrew did CapturingtheFriedmans, and brother Eugene this year won the prize for Best US Documentary for THE HOUSE I LIVE IN, which details the failure of the government's 40-year battle against illegal drug use. Jarecki père, Henry Jarecki, is, by the way, a former Yale psychiatry professor-turned-metals-trader with a fortune in the billions.
No doubt they are all familiar with the title trading technique of fast profiteering off the price discrepancy for the same commodity on different exchanges. One could spend time applying the metaphor to Gere's projection of himself on different moral exchanges in Arbitrage — family, lover, parent, financier. And apparently one of the guys behind the film's acquisition, Howard Cohen of Roadside Attractions, who did well with Margin Call in 2011, saw a commodity he liked enough to buy.
Michael Walker's Price Check is about the arrival of a bad boss (Parker Posey), a refugee from a career and a marriage in LA, who emigrates to Ohio to revive a dying supermarket chain. Think Steve Carell from TV's The Office and you get the contours of Price Check, the difference being the jerk's gender. Posey's ruthless careerist learned her values in LA and is playing for keeps in the heartland. Moral: America is no longer a superpower; it's a supermarket run by morons.
Did Sundance have a great year? The critical and business consensus is that it was so-so, but there are some strong titles that sort themselves into boomlets. Delpy's Manhattan comedy and Zeitlin's Louisiana flood film, both cultural pulse-takers, were simply superb standouts in a year marked by feature films going for the safe laugh and the ho-hum villain.
Meanwhile, film business pros regard the perennial festival enthusiasm like Stockholm Syndrome. That the 2012 vintage is only mezzo-mezzo is obscured by the civilian crowds who seemed happy to be in this strip-mall resort town that is eating the Wasatch Mountains like a cancer.