THE BENEFACTOR – Review by Susan Granger
With a dazzling resume that includes “Pretty Woman” and “An Officer and a Gentleman,” now 66 year-old Richard Gere seems to be attracted to eccentric character studies, following “Arbitrage” (2012) with “Time Out of Mind” (2014) and now his cinematic interpretation of Francis L. Watts – a.k.a. Franny. Read on…
Arrogant yet affable Franny is a wealthy Philadelphia philanthropist, haunted by guilt. As his story begins, he’s developing a children’s hospital-wing project with married friends (Cheryl Hines, Dylan Baker). Smoking pot in the back seat of their car, euphoric Franny’s impulsive but distracting hug leads to an automobile accident that kills the couple.
Five years later, living in seclusion while recovering from devastating injuries, Franny receives a call from their twentysomething daughter, Olivia (Dakota Fanning), whom he affectionately calls Poodles. Newly married to Luke (Theo James) and pregnant, she wants to move back to Philadelphia.
Exuberantly extravagant to an extreme and eager to facilitate in any way he can, Franny gets Luke a prestigious position at his now-completed children’s wing of the hospital, pays off Luke’s student loan and buys them the suburban house Olivia grew up in.
Problem is: Franny has become addicted to pain-killing morphine – and Luke refuses to refill his prescription. In a bizarre, vaguely homoerotic scene, Franny persuades Luke to take Ecstasy before they embark on a daredevil ride.
Novice writer/director Andrew Renzi says he was inspired by John E. DuPont, whose strange proclivities were previously depicted in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher.” But clichés abound in this clunky melodrama, and there are so many implausible plot holes that even Gere’s legendary silver-fox charm cannot fill them all.
While Franny seems to spend more time at Philadelphia’s Museum of Art than Rocky Balboa did, this developed-at-Sundance script eventually dissolves into a conventional, nightmarish addiction parable.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Benefactor” is a bumbling 3, revolving around guilt and generosity.