Review: The Benefactor
PLOT: Following the death of her parents, a young woman (Dakota Fanning) and her doctor husband (Theo James) are taken under the wing of a family friend, a wealthy philanthropist (Richard Gere) with no family and more than a few secrets of his own.
REVIEW: Based on what little material I saw promoting THE BENEFACTOR, the premise and poster had me assuming that this would be a kind of white-collar thriller where Gere's wealthy benefactor would meddle in the lives of the two younger heroes is a sinister way. Thus I was surprised to discover that despite appearances, THE BENEFACTOR is not actually a thriller at all, but rather a character study similar to Richard Gere's previous ARBITRAGE.
Here, his Franny (the nickname he goes by) isn't a bad guy at all. While he's overbearing and sometimes hard to control, he's a pretty magnanimous figure, with him obviously seeing Dakota Fanning's character (who he affectionately calls Poodle) as the daughter he never had. As such, the things he does for the couple are pretty benign, such as arranging a job for James and paying off his student loans. Heck, he has the cash – why not? Outside of one ill-advised outing where he does some Ecstasy with James, he's a pretty wonderful guy, making the hook, where Fanning and James want to be free of him to some degree, a little hard to swallow. He seems so harmless.
While this part of the movie, Gere's relationship with the young couple, only works in spurts, about forty minutes from the end THE BENEFACTOR turns into a completely different kind of film, where it's revealed that Gere's hopelessly addicted to morphine and is desperate to keep scoring. At this point it becomes a virtual one-man show from Gere, as he's shown in withdrawal, and then attempting to score drugs in emergency rooms, pharmacies and more. We very rarely get to see older drug addicts on film, and Gere's performance in this part of the movie is really something.
While in his younger days, people used to say Gere was two-dimensional, he's been doing some really amazing acting over the last few years, with the lauded ARBITRAGE but also the excellent TIME OUT OF MIND, a performance that's pretty much Oscar-worthy, although no real campaign has been launched to get him any consideration. Andrew Renzi's THE BENEFACTOR is another good vehicle for his talents, although it's a shame it takes nearly half of the film's running time before we can finally get to the real meat of the performance, as viewers with more limited patience may well check-out by this point as up to then it's pretty run-of-the-mill.
While James and Fanning aren't really given much to do (both come off as shallow brats) Gere's performance is so good that on that basis alone THE BENEFACTOR is a must-see. It's great that Gere's still giving it his all in this solid run of indies he's been a part of, even if they're going largely unseen. This certainly isn't a perfect movie as it takes quite a while to get going, but when THE BENEFACTOR works, as it does in the last act, it's well-worth checking out.