The Benefactor is the kind of offbeat film that reminds us that Richard Gere is a great actor. Gere has been around for decades, charming the likes of Julia Roberts, but he has always shined in smaller films like Arbitrage or The Hoax. In The Benefactor, he does some big acting but his performance is always absorbing.
Gere headlines as Franny. Franny is eccentric, energetic and kind of mysterious. His best friends, Bobby (Dylan Baker) and Mia (Cheryl Hines), have a daughter, Olivia (Dakota Fanning), who Franny treats and loves as if she were his own. For a while, we aren’t sure how Franny truly fits into their family dynamic. He is portrayed as the weird uncle – and later on in the film he is referred to as such – who is always around but you don’t really know much about him.
But one day, tragedy strikes and the film flashes forward five years. Franny has seemingly fallen apart. Once clean-cut and presentable, he now has long hair and a beard. He gets a call from Olivia, who wants to see him. She is married to Luke (Theo James) and they are expecting their first baby together. Franny is ecstatic to see Olivia again and tries to bring himself to a place of energy and excitement that he once knew.
The thing about Franny is that he is extremely wealthy. We never really know why; he is only referred to as a philanthropist with no real discussion or evidence of a career. Once reconnected with Olivia, he inserts himself into their marriage and becomes a little too involved. He uses his wealth and power to get Luke a job at the hospital he owns and showers them with lavish gifts. It’s seemingly well-intentioned but far too intrusive.
As a character study, The Benefactor provides some interesting elements and themes of grief and guilt. Franny’s carefree life was upended and he spends years trying to find his way amidst warring feelings. The Benefactor asks the question, can money buy redemption?
Gere is terrific here, in a role could been passed off as capital-A acting. But that’s Franny – loud and bombastic, erratic and unpredictable. Gere plays Franny as such but not without his demons lurched on his shoulder. Franny is far more complex than he seems on the surface or maybe even the screenplay knows.
Fanning isn’t given much to do in the film. Her role is so thinly constructed by writer-director Andrew Renzi, where she is only required to frown and speak in monotone. James is given an opportunity to perform outside of the dreadful Divergent series and does so well. He is an interesting scene partner and opponent for Gere’s Franny and tries to navigate his life with Franny thrown into the mix.
The Benefactor is Renzi’s first feature-length film and in some ways it shows. It takes a while to establish the characters and their connections with each other. At times, there seems to be a few dots missing within the narrative, which makes the film feel occasionally scattershot.
But this is Gere’s show and he demands our attention. He certainly has earned it.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
Gere plays the wildly eccentric Franny, which is one of his strongest performances as of late. The screenplay could have used polishing but as a study of Franny and Gere’s performance, The Benefactor succeeds.