Troubled Titans

Wall Street Models for Richard Gere’s ‘Arbitrage’ Character (PHOTOS)

Who is Robert Miller? From Jamie Dimon to Bernie Madoff, Dan Gross on the character’s real-life influences.

In Arbitrage, Richard Gere stars as Robert Miller, a morally shaky hedge fund manager trying to extricate himself from legal, personal, and financial troubles. The film in theaters Friday, is very much of the moment and features real-life figures from the world of high finance, from CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo to Four Seasons restaurant co-owner Julian Niccolini. But who is Robert Miller? He’s not modeled on any single Wall Street figure. But writer and director Nicholas Jarecki clearly cribbed from the pages of The Wall Street Journal in shaping the character. (Hollywood loves to mash-up bits and pieces of fact when creating its heroes and villains.) Here are some of the real-life influences on Robert Miller’s fictional character.

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Jamie Dimon

Chief executive officer, JPMorgan Chase

Miller isn’t the head of a large banking firm, as Dimon is. And nobody would confuse Dimon for Richard Gere. But the two do share a silvery-gray wave of hair, slim build, propensity for power ties, and a clipped, aggressive, New York speaking style.

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John Paulson

Founder and president, Paulson & Co.

Miller refers to himself as the “Oracle of Gracie Square”  and is lionized in the film for prescient bets on the housing market. Just so, Paulson emerged from relative obscurity to the heights of prominence on the back of aggressive bets against mortgage-backed securities at the height of the bubble. The bet transformed Paulson from just another somewhat rich guy into a financial sage.

AP Photo

Philip Falcone

Founder, Harbinger Capital

Miller gets into financial trouble in part because of a strange shift in investment strategy. After making tons of money in securities, the swashbuckling trader sinks a huge chunk of his fund into a Russian copper mine, a highly illiquid asset whose value rises and falls at the whim of politicians and regulators. The ill-timed move threatens his whole fund and reputation. Falcone did something similar. Harbinger cashed in big-time with smart investments during the housing and credit bubble. But then Falcone plunged a huge amount of his assets into LightSquared, a wireless fiber-optic company whose fortunes have risen and (mostly) fallen due in part to regulatory issues. Falcone’s ill-timed move has threatened his whole fund and reputation.

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Bernard Madoff

Miller runs a large investment company like a family business—his son works there, and his daughter is the chief investment officer. As questions of shady accounting start to chip away at the façade of the genius investor, we’re left to wonder how much the family members know and to what extent they are culpable in the shenanigans. In the Madoff affair, Bernie’s two sons worked alongside him in the family business, although they were not directly employed by the corrupt investment management business. And since Madoff pleaded guilty and won’t talk, the question of how much his family knew and when remains an open question.

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Jon Corzine

Former CEO, Goldman Sachs; former CEO, MF Global

Miller gets in trouble in part because he starts moving around to cover up a poor trading loss and then aggravates his predicament through reckless behavior in a vehicle in a highway. Corzine’s downward career arc is somewhat similar. While governor of New Jersey, he was injured in a car accident—he wasn’t the driver, but it turned out he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. His career in finance came to an end when MF Global, the company where he served as CEO, went bust. It was revealed that the firm began moving customers’ money around in problematic ways, in part to cover for trading losses stemming from strategies that Corzine devised.

Daniel Acker, Bloomberg News / Getty Images

Stephen Schwarzman

Founder and chairman, Blackstone Group

Miller lives in splendor on Park Avenue—a good chunk of the film takes place in his apartment—and burnishes his public image with a high-profile donation to a well-known New York charity. Schwarzman resides in a 35-room apartment on Park Avenue that was once owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and burnished his reputation by making a $100 million donation to the New York Public Library.

Ronda Churchill, Bloomberg / Getty Images

Steven A. Cohen

Founder, SAC Capital

One of Arbitrage’s plot twists involves Miller’s interest in modern art. He backs a gallery owner, collects art, and tells another character that he buys modern art because it is a good investment. Cohen, founder of a huge Greenwich, Conn.-based hedge fund, has emerged as one of the most influential and aggressive collectors of modern art. Among his holdings is Damien Hirst’s shark suspended in formaldehyde.