Richard Gere could be in line for his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a conflicted financial executive and family man in Arbitrage.

As the morally ambiguous hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller in Arbitrage, the debut fictional feature by Nicholas Jarecki, Richard Gere has his meatiest role in ages.

“The first thing that struck me was just how good the script was,” Gere says of his early impressions of the project. “Most of the movies that people try to make now are really not about people; they’re about cartoons, not our everyday realities. In this script I recognised the people very much.”

He continues: “It’s very rare to see a film these days that’s about people and dialogue and rich language.”

Gere plays a wealthy man involved in some dodgy financial dealings, which are discovered by his colleague and daughter (Brit Marling). And that is not all — he is also cheating on his wife (Susan Sarandon) with a mistress (Laetitia Casta) and becomes embroiled in a police investigation led by a pushy detective (Tim Roth). Marling and Nate Parker (as Miller’s friend Jimmy Grant) are excellent in the supporting cast, and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter also takes a small role.

It is a film that goes in unexpected directions — and is certainly not just a one-note story about a spoiled guy from Wall Street. “Compelling situations are escalating all the way through the script,” Gere says of Jarecki’s writing. “Every time you think you know what’s going to happen next or you settle into it, there’s a right turn or a left turn or a U-turn that’s challenging us as viewers.”

The financial landscape in New York is close to home for Jarecki; his mother and father are both commodities traders. “I was always fascinated by the world of business,” the director says. “I’ve had my own company so I have the technical knowledge, and I learned about markets from my parents.”

Film-making is also in the family — his half brothers are Andrew Jarecki (Capturing The Friedmans) and Eugene Jarecki (The House I Live In); Nicholas himself graduated from NYU’s film school, and previously made the James Toback documentary The Outsider.

‘Richard Gere really has the slickness, confidence and humanity to bring to that world - to be that double man’

Nicholas Jarecki

It is not often that Gere signs on to work with a first-time fiction film-maker. One element that convinced him to trust the newcomer was the director’s shared thoughts on the character of Robert Miller. “The decision we made pretty early on was that to paint him as a villain in the clichéd ways was not really going to help us at all,” Gere remembers. “To see him as a flawed human being like all of us, and watch him make a lot of bad decisions based on a very specific mindset seemed to be the more interesting way to go.

“There’s not anything particularly systematic about him. Bernie Madoff was a systematically dark character, a sociopath, and I didn’t want to go into that territory. This guy Robert Miller is us. He’s an outsized version of us, there’s more money, more power, more influence. There is unfinished business inside him psychologically and emotionally.”

Jarecki says Gere was the perfect man to take on Miller: “He was an actor I always had in mind for the role. He really has the slickness, confidence and humanity to bring to that world — to be that cipher, that double man.”

Arbitrage’s roughly $15m budget was raised from equity investors, foreign sales and bank loans, and the finished film was acquired for a reported $2m by Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions after its Sundance premiere. Parlay Films handles international sales, and WME Global represented domestic rights.

Working on a smaller scale of independent film wasn’t a problem for Gere. “One of the ironies of this is that it’s a very good film and I’m very proud of the work that everyone has done and it was made very inexpensively, but I never felt rushed. We did it in 31 days but I don’t remember it being that quick.” Jarecki’s contacts in New York were useful for securing locations even on a budget — such as The Four Seasons, The Plaza Hotel and the GM Building.

It is exactly the kind of smart adult drama that would have been made by the studios in the past, Gere argues. “This is a film, when I began making movies, that would not have been an independent. There were a lot of movies like this that were made, that had to do with people, that had to do with language, that had to do with subjects in the newspapers, were in our lives, the texture of our lives. These are now movies that are independent.”

Working outside the studio system has been beneficial for Arbitrage. In the US, it has had a unique release pattern that only independents could manage. Lionsgate/Roadside took a risk by launching it with a forward-thinking theatrical and simultaneous VoD release in September (similar to what they did last year with the Oscar-nominated Margin Call). So far, the film has made more than $7.8m in the US.

When asked during the Zurich Film Festival in late September about the Oscar talk surrounding Arbitrage, Gere wouldn’t be drawn into awards predictions. Still, if the film picks up awards season heat, Gere could be in line for his first Academy Awards nomination. Yes, his first — he was overlooked for popular works such as American Gigolo, An Officer And A Gentleman and Pretty Woman. Yet Gere says the only time a snub got under his skin was at the 2003 awards.

“The only time it bothered me at all and I had any particular emotion about it was with Chicago, because it was a terrific movie and everyone was nominated on that movie except for me,” he says with a laugh.