The Benefactor (2015)

The Benefactor (2015)
  • Time: 90 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Andrew Renzi
  • Cast: Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning, Theo James


A philanthropist meddles in the lives of newly-married couples in an attempt to relive his past.


  • Wealth can be as insidious as addiction, and generosity can often be a bullying act. The Benefactor, originally titled Franny, stars Richard Gere as a philanthropist whose gestures of magnanimity come to resemble a series of suffocations.

    Still reeling from the part he played in causing the car accident that killed his married college friends Bobby and Mia (Dylan Baker and Cheryl Hines), Francis “Franny” Watts has been somewhat of a recluse in the ensuing five years. Self-exiled in a luxury hotel, Franny spends his days in a drug-addled haze, downing the liquid morphine prescribed for his damaged leg. He rouses himself from his stupor upon receiving a call from Olivia (Dakota Fanning), Bobby and Mia’s daughter on whom he doted as if she were his own.

    Olivia announces her marriage, pregnancy, and intention to return back home to Philadelphia. Franny welcomes her with arms wide open, securing a position for her husband Luke (Theo James) at the children’s hospital he built with and for Bobby, buying back Olivia’s childhood home and presenting it as a wedding present for the young couple, and even paying off all of Luke’s student loans. Luke is understandably uneasy though Olivia, partly due to her remorse at leaving Franny alone during his recovery and partly because she wants her baby to know her family in one form or another, is more complacent. “I don’t think we can say no,” she tells Luke. When he protests again, Olivia explains that Franny has always been this way with her parents, who were simply friends and didn’t need anything from Franny.

    This may be a bit naive for Olivia to say considering the existence of the children’s hospital, yet it can at least be filed under the recollection of events from a child’s limited perspective. What strikes one as somewhat incomprehensible is Bobby and Mia’s integration of Franny into their home. Perhaps they too bristled at his disregard for personal boundaries but, in Franny’s recollections, they were all too willing to literally welcome him into their bed and their lives whenever it pleased him. Yet something slightly more sinister is at play in Franny’s dealings with Olivia and Luke. There are shades of Vertigo in Franny’s efforts to turn the young couple into Bobby and Mia and, for the briefest of spells, a Rosemary’s Baby-type dread undergirds Franny’s motivations.

    If writer-director Andrew Renzi had chosen to focus only on that aspect, The Benefactor might have been an engrossing psychological drama that could make for an interesting double feature with Joel Edgerton’s The Gift. As a portrait of addiction, one in which Franny uses both pharmaceutical and physical crutches to disguise his loneliness and cowardice, The Benefactor certainly benefits from Gere’s showy performance. That said, Gere is far more resonant as a man in emotional collapse during moments of stillness, such as the one where he sits in the hospital emergency room in order to get a fix. As an essay on how generosity is accompanied by some degree of quid pro quo, that it can induce a guilt of obligation within the recipient and a sense of entitlement from the benefactor, the film offers intriguing points for discussion.

    The problem is The Benefactor cannot be all these things at once as Renzi does not yet possess the ability to combine all of these elements and give them all equal footing in one film. Instead of complexity, there is a muddle. It is as if Renzi had planted all the proper signposts and didn’t allow them to guide him to his destination. Renzi’s musical choices – “My Girl” and “The Dark End of the Street” amongst them – though too on-the-nose in their reflection of Franny’s internal barometer – are distracting to the point of being ineffective.

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  • “Did you buy my house ? I bought it for the three of you. Welcome.”

    I’ve never been a big fan of Richard Gere. I always associate him with ordinary films of the genre drama and comedy, with a lick of romance. Gere is also perfect for such films. A charismatic person with the right looks. Worthy son-in-law material and someone who made many women’s hearts beat faster in those days. Since “Pretty Woman”, a film with Gere was for me a film to avoid. Although I surely want to give “The Mothman Prophecies” a chance. And despite his old age, this 67 year-old former gigolo still looks surprisingly frivolous and attractive. Perhaps now you should look for his admirers among the over-60s.

    I came across “The benefactor” by chance and it didn’t look like a romantic comedy to me. Well, it’s far from being comical. It shows the agony of the eccentric philanthropist Franny who’s suffering from remorse and regret. A guilt this millionaire carries from the time that he’s involved in a car accident along with a befriended couple Bobby (Dylan Baker) and Mia (Cheryl Hines). Whether he’s the cause or not is not really clear. Daughter Olivia (Dakota Fanning), with whom the bachelor Franny has a good bond, turns his back on him.

    Five years later, the charming, “dashing through life” multimillionaire who realized energetic plans, has changed into an introverted hermit who spends his days making morphine cocktails. A haggard loner with an appearance of Gandalf the White. A neglected Santa Claus with a thick beard and a wild hairdo. A caveman living in his luxurious cave. And then Olivia returns. Contacting him with the message that she’ll be returning as a newly wed, pregnant woman. Franny gets his act together and from that moment on he only has one plan. And that plan is to make this couple’s life as easy as possible and support them with his fortune.

    To be honest, I think the acting performance of Richard Gere in this film was sublime. An overwhelming, charismatic character who demands all the attention during the whole movie. In such a fantastic way that the parts of Dakota Fanning and Theo James, the husband of Olivia, almost completely fade into the background. Gere shows a character that sways from one mood into another. From a flamboyant, enthusiastic founder of a children’s hospital to a pitiful heap of misery. And then resurrecting again as a benefactor. Enthusiastically but with a tormented mind. At times I couldn’t believe this was really Richard Gere. Fanning’s character was reduced to a piece of scenery that served as the initiator of Franny’s behavior. The same applies to Theo James. Although he also pleasantly surprised me.

    The acting looks respectable. What about the story itself? Well, that’s something else. First, it is terribly boring and dead simple. The whole story (not the psychological situation) can easily be summarized in a few concise sentences. In other words, nothing much happens. What story were they actually trying to tell? The tragedy of lost friends and a painful rehabilitation? A demonstration of excessive generosity and intrusiveness? The physical and mental deterioration because of an addiction? All of that was in it, but the character study dominated. Also certain questions remained unanswered. Was it really Franny’s fault? Where did his fortune come from? And isn’t it so that rich people can buy whatever they want? What I do know is that I’ll give ‘Time out of mind “a chance.

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