Title: The Benefactor
Director: Andrew Renzi
Major Players: Richard Gere, Elle Fanning, Theo James
Out Of Five: 2.5
You wait for a year for a Richard Gere film – well, you do if you’re a fan – and then two come along at once. It’s twelve months since his appearance in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and now he stars in two new releases over the next fortnight. Next week comes Time Out Of Mind, originally released in the States last autumn, but firstly there’s The Benefactor, the debut from director Andrew Renzi.
Gere plays Franny, a fabulously wealthy philanthropist, haunted by the death of his closest friends in a car accident. A near recluse since then, he emerges back into the real world when their daughter returns home with her new husband and a large baby bump. He lavishes them with everything they need – a house and a job for the husband are just for starters – but his generosity comes at a price. And he’s hiding a dark secret.
It’s the cinematic equivalent of a cut ‘n’ shut, starting off with several potentially interesting storylines. There’s his relationship with the daughter, Olivia (Elle Fanning), one that’s so close that you wonder if there’s more to it than just being a surrogate uncle. When she and husband Luke (Theo James) come back, he’s constantly there, to the point of being intrusive. Too close for comfort, as it were. He’s generous with his money, both to the hospital he funds and to the young couple, but his open wallet doesn’t come free of charge and he’s not shy when it comes to calling in favours. And then there’s his morphine addiction: he was badly injured in the accident, is still in pain five years later and has become hooked on his medication.
Meaty stuff, then? It would if just one of the strands was fully developed. We’re left dangling as far as Franny’s real relationship with Olivia is concerned, although that’s probably the least promising idea. And, having constantly been breathing down the couple’s necks, he suddenly withdraws from them, so that the focus is all on him. So, despite the often subdued lighting, there wasn’t anything especially sinister about his behaviour.
His attitude to money and what it can buy has more potential, but never goes any further than the age old lesson about it not buying everything. He may have given them their jobs, but the doctors at the hospital are all too ethical to write him a prescription, and that includes Luke. After that, the theme hits a brick wall. And his addiction to painkillers doesn’t go much further than his constant claims that he’s not a junkie.
Gere’s the reason for watching this. Putting the frustrations of the storyline to one side, he invests what is essentially an unlikeable character with complexity and a certain amount of sympathy, even though you’re constantly suspecting his motives. Credit to him as well for supporting a new director, even though Renzi has been over-ambitious in his choice of film, trying to juggle too many balls too soon.
As if to illustrate that even further, the ending is desperately facile, leaving you with the feeling that the film has been a total waste of time. That’s not actually the case. It’s another reminder from Gere that he’s matured into an actor of stature, one who relishes digging deep into a complicated character. But the film just doesn’t match up to him.
The Benefactor is released in cinemas on Friday, 26 February and on DVD on Monday, 29 February. It’s also reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 25 February.