Robert Miller (Richard Gere) might be the epitome of The Man.

This master of the universe, to use Tom Wolfe's fitting phrase, strides confidently to and from meetings at which billions are at stake, wearing a $400 haircut atop his impeccably tailored suits, never looking less than cool. But settled in his private jet on his way back home after one such powwow, there finally appears a crack in the polished veneer.

"Did you speak to the auditors?" his right-hand man, Gavin Briar (Chris Eigeman), asks in the middle of a conversation.

On screen
3 out of 4 stars
Stars: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling
Director: Nicholas Jarecki
Rated: R for language, brief violent images and drug use
Running time: 100 minutes

Robert's head immediately turns, and he finally looks at the man with whom he's been discussing the details of the biggest deal of his life.

It takes some time for us to understand just what the problem facing Robert Miller is. But we immediately get that it's a big one. "Arbitrage" is packed with tension from start to finish. It helps that writer-director Nicholas Jarecki, in his first feature film, wisely decided not to make a message movie.

More important, its central character is played by Gere, whose charm never seems to fade, just as he barely seems to age. "Arbitrage" feels like a thriller, but it's more of a character study. We begin to understand why a man like Miller might make the choices he does -- even as we realize those choices have implications far beyond the bank account of the Miller family.

Miller turns 60 as the movie opens. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would retire early, but he's in the midst of selling his trading empire. His heir apparent, daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), doesn't know why he's so anxious to get this deal signed, but we soon do: Miller has cooked the books and needs to unload the company so he can resolve his debts before his fraud is discovered.

That's enough worry for one man in one week. But Miller's is about to get worse. Driving late at night with his mistress, a beautiful French artist (Laetitia Casta), the insomniac falls asleep behind the wheel, crashing and killing his passenger.

If the accident were made public, his deal would be scuttled -- and his life, financial and otherwise, would be ruined. Robert gets a figure from his past to help him clean up. But a resentful cop (Tim Roth) realizes Miller is somehow involved. Will he collect some real evidence before Richard can get his deal signed? And why is it taking so long for his buyer to get his John Hancock on a piece of paper anyway? Has he somehow discovered the fraud?

"Arbitrage" isn't a perfect film. The internal bleeding that Robert suffers, unwilling to go to a hospital and give the police probably cause, suddenly stops bothering him. Ellen (Susan Sarandon), Robert's wife, is a weak link, too, though she proves crucial to the plot. The female characters do seem like something of an afterthought.

But those are mere quibbles. "Arbitrage" is a gripping movie for our moment. There's a lot of pressure that comes with being known as "The Oracle," as Richard is. He's not playing the game and breaking the rules simply for his own interest -- many people rely on him for their livelihoods.