Movie Review - The Benefactor

Richard Gere stars as Francis Watts aka Franny, a 60-year-old philanthropist who lives in Philadelphia. At the opening, he is involved in a car accident that kills his two best friends. He survives but is left scarred with a limp and an addiction to painkillers. His doctors won't prescribe him any more pills. Franny doesn't want to go to drug dealers on the street, so it presents him a problem. At the same time, Franny insinuates himself into the life of the daughter of his late, best friends, as well as her husband's life who is an up-and-coming physician. Written and directed by Andrew Renzi, what isn't clear is if the two are related. What also isn't clear is what kind of movie Renzi wants this to be.

Franny insinuates himself into the lives of this young couple. Olivia, played by Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds and Man on Fire), is the pregnant daughter of Franny's deceased friends. It appears that she is going to be a stay-at-home mom. It's not sure what she's interested in vocationally or hobby-wise. Luke, played by Theo James (Divergent and Underworld: Awakening), is Olivia's husband, the father of her baby and the aforementioned physician.

First, Franny buys them a house in the country, a veritable estate. He then pays off all of Luke's student-loans from medical school. He keeps giving Luke more and more gifts. He makes Luke a member of the hospital board. He spends nights out with Luke, drinking and doing ecstasy with Luke. Olivia is practically non-existent during all of this. It's almost as if Renzi is building a romance between Franny and Luke. Right before, Franny's friends die, he's seen embracing his male friend. It made me wonder if Franny were romantically inclined to men, and specifically Luke.

However, if Franny is not driven by lust but by guilt, it makes no sense why his attention is centered on Luke. Olivia is actually the blood relative of his dead friends. If he blames himself for her parents' deaths, it would be more reasonable for him to be more with her, but she's ditched and it becomes all about Luke.

Given his drug addiction and how desperate he becomes, one assumption is that the reason he's giving Luke so many gifts and cozies up to this young physician is so that he can use Luke to score drugs, but that idea falls flat after a brief attempt to fly. Another assumption is that he's a crazy, personal philanthropist with boundary issues, but we're given none of Franny's history before the car accident. No clue how he made his fortune or anything! That assumption falls flat too.

As a result, Renzi's film is too short and too vague. He needed to fill out Gere's character a little more. The movie is sustained due to Gere's sheer charm. Whether he's a homeless person as in the recent Time Out of Mind (2015), or a drug addict here, Gere can't help but be appealing and personable. It helps that even at 60, he's still incredibly handsome and winning, but that's not enough.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains drug use and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 33 mins.


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