So how many times have we felt like we were on stable ground discussing Richard Gere's place in an awards season? A handful? He deserved some real consideration for "Days of Heaven" way back when, no doubt. He was surrounded by lauded performers in "An Officer and a Gentleman." Flirted with the Globes for "Pretty Woman" and "Chicago" (netting a SAG nod, too, for the latter).

The last time his name popped up was for Lasse Hallström's "The Hoax," in which he offered up typically solid work. "Solid" is really a pretty decent descriptor of Gere's contribution to the screen all these years, I'd say. And every once in a while, he turns out something a bit more special.

I think "Arbitrage" is one of those special moments for him. The film played Sundance back in January to generally positive response and Gere was spotlighted, of course. But the more I chew on it after a recent screening, the more I think it might be on the top tier of the actor's work to date.

The film on the whole is really a skillful, well-paced, taut piece of work from first-time director Nicholas Jarecki. Greg Ellwood called the script "convoluted" out of Park City, but I beg to differ. It's pretty streamlined, really, and the mark of an efficient storyteller. It's simplistic, even, but for all the right reasons, the same kinds of reasons that made, say, "Michael Clayton" pop for an audience eager to absorb rich character studies. I could even see the screenplay getting some love on the circuit.

And Gere makes everything count with his performance of a flawed, crooked businessman who you nevertheless find yourself pulling for to some extent (before, of course, catching yourself). That's what's so good about the film, that it's so simple but still trades in complex characterization.

A movie like this thrives on nuance without standing on neutral ground, and as a result, it -- like "The Company Men" or, indeed, "Michael Clayton" -- has a little more to say about the zeitgeist than a film like last year's Sundance-to-Oscar indie hit "Margin Call." Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Nate Parker and especially Tim Roth (so good) fill out a well-chosen cast, but Gere is center stage and he delivers.

Roadside Attractions picked the film up out of Sundance and will surely be looking to build a campaign and capture some of that lightning it bottled with "Margin Call." They found a good rhythm with "Albert Nobbs," too, while in 2010 they got there with Javier Bardem in "Biutiful" and, of course, Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone." With little else on their slate looking like a real player, I suspect chances are we could be hearing more about the film and particularly Gere's work throughout the season.

We'll see how it goes.