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Nov. 8, 2012


Odd filming style adds to tension in ‘Arbitrage’

Camera motion creates action, suspense

By Cody Sonkoly

Though the story is engrossing and bursting with moments of suspense, what truly makes the film “Arbitrage” a successful dramatic thriller is its creative, kinetic visual style. Each shot works to make each scene even more gripping and tense.

Arbitrage poster“Arbitrage” is written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. It stars Richard Gere as Robert Miller, a billionaire hedge fund manager who has committed fraud and attempts to cover it up by altering his company’s books.

When his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) discovers these financial discrepancies and begins to investigate, Robert is involved in a car crash that kills a passenger he should not have been involved with.

During an investigation by Detective Bryer (Time Roth), he desperately attempts to correct his rapidly spiraling business and personal life before either is brought to ruin. Ellen Miller, Robert’s wife, is portrayed by Susan Sarandon.

All the action and suspense in this film comes down to one type of camera movement: the shakiness that results from using a handheld camera.

This dynamic shooting style grounds certain scenes firmly in reality by making it seem as if the viewers are present within the world of the film. In fact, much of the suspense derived from “Arbitrage” comes from the visual authenticity this camera work helps generate. With heightened suspense comes the viewer’s vested interest in the film’s outcome.

The best example of this occurs after Robert’s life-altering car crash and his attempt to cover up his involvement.

Returning home, Robert walks down a hallway and into a room in order to destroy security camera footage that shows him arriving. As he does so, he is also attempting to avoid detection by anyone that is currently in the home.

This sequence is filmed with a handheld camera that follows Robert’s every movement. We trail Robert as he walks straight down a hallway before turning right into a room, which is a fairly simple and mundane action, except that the roving camera reminds us of the tense circumstances in which they are occurring. All this exacerbates the risk of discovery.

Even when this film relies on a Steadicam, it is in constant motion as well. A simple conversation between two characters is made dynamic by the camera’s movement.

Instead of zooming, a dolly shot is used to move in closer to a character’s face, which allows the audience a deeper reading of what each character is thinking and feeling by visually emphasizing particularly dramatic lines of dialogue.

Constant movement also serves as a wonderful counterpoint for the rare moments when it stops. The sudden transition from constant, probing movement to utter stillness is jarring and helps to heighten the emotion and suspense of the sequences in which it is utilized.

This unique and energetic shooting style helps “Arbitrage” establish its singular tone and heighten the suspense. It also helps separate “Arbitrage” from the many run-of-the-mill dramas that occupy the cinema and makes this film worth seeing.