Movie Review: 'The Benefactor' (2015)

An ominous title gives the false impression that writer-director Andrew Renzi’s feature film debut is in some way a thriller. Spoiler alert: it is not. “The Benefactor” tells the tale of Franny (Richard Gere), a morphine addicted philanthropist whose guilty conscious over his role in a car accident that claimed the lives of his two best friends (Cheryl Hines and Dylan Baker) and severely injured him, has consumed his existence.

Jolting him from his stupor is a phone call from his deceased friends’ only child (Dakota Fanning). She announces that she has recently married a doctor (Theo James) and they are expecting their first baby. For whatever reason her husband cannot find a job and they want to move back to Philadelphia so she asks her parents’ dearest friend for help and winds up getting more than she bargained for.

From this point the movie flashes between the newlyweds awkward hesitance to accept Franny’s escalating grand gestures and his equally uncomfortable attempts at securing drugs for his habit. All of this occurs as his mind cycles back to that fateful car wreck; wherein very little new information is ever gleaned; calling into question why these scenes are even necessary.

Like so many other aspects of the film it all intimates it is building towards some climactic event or reveal and that all of these jagged fragments will somehow make sense once they are all pressed into place. Well, that never quite happens. As terrifically as the tension is mounted, it all ends up having nowhere to flow.

The excessive generosity Franny shows to his beloved “Poodles” opens the door for oodles of further questions. Why does a young woman who claims she wants nothing from her godfather-ish figure reach out for his help to begin with? Why is a doctor fresh out of med school struggling to find a job? Why does a man who is so addicted to morphine willingly empty a bottle of it? What was going on between Franny and Olivia’s parents? Is he actually Olivia’s biological father? 

Most of the movie goes by giving the impression we are in for some menage a tois-type revelation about this trio of friends, only to have nothing revealed that is even a tad remarkable. In fact, there is no reveal at all. Nothing to explain Franny’s intimacy with his friends or why the movie goes out of its way to make the point there was a unique quality to their closeness, if there was none. Furthermore, there is no explanation given for any of the aforementioned inquiries.

Without Richard Gere's captivating and magnificent central turn, “The Benefactor” would be on the brink of bankruptcy. Theo James gives a commendable performance alongside him, though his part is shallowly explored. Both get a lot more to do than Dakota Fanning, whose role one would think central to the entire plot actually requires no more than looking sadly into space for the duration of her brief screen time. Sharing that theme of thin study is the movie’s overall reach.

One cannot help wondering what point it is exactly trying to make. While it does well conveying a brooding demeanor and the effects of drug addiction upon its captive, “The Benefactor” runs out of steam early on. Due in part to its uneven energy and dizzying focus, deciphering its motives proves impossible. Rating: 5.5/10

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