The Benefactor

Released in 2015. Written and directed by Andrew Renzi. Starring Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning, and Theo James. Running time 1 hour 33 minutes.

Another dollar store pickup…another disappointment.

The Benefactor follows Franny (Richard Gere), a philanthropist who lost his best friends in a car accident five years ago, as he balances being a morphine addict and the making up for the guilt he has regarding the accident. (He should feel guilty, he basically caused the accident.) His besties have a daughter Olivia (Dakota Fanning), whom he lovingly refers to as “Poodles”, who reenters his life, after the said five years, pregnant and married to a young Dr. Harris (Theo James). Franny owns a hospital so naturally he gives Dr. Harris a job and gives him a seat on the Board. Things go awry when Franny runs out of his liquid morphine and no one will fill his prescription…

What I liked

The Benefactor has its moments of quality acting. Some of the wide and nature shots are quite nice visually.

What I wished was better

There are moments when Richard Gere is sweet to watch because of his talent but they pass too quickly to mention. “Poodles” is an annoying nickname and literally makes no sense within the snapshot of the story. Unfortunately, we hear him say it 100 too many times. Other than that, Gere shows a man on the edge but only when the scene calls for it. Not consistently. I don’t believe he “needs” the cane or the morphine. He walks with the cane like it’s decorative. He literally pours some of the morphine out onto the carpet which I don’t think an addict would. Later, he confronts the doctor who has stopped filling his prescription and is offered rehab and some other pain meds. He doesn’t take it but lashes out, roaming the streets, and even cuts himself so he can get drugs from the clinic. In other scenes, he’s manic buying and doing things to make up for his fatal errors. There’s no true character arc showing his descent as an addict. A couple of scenes, sure, but when he needs to pull himself together–he can. Problem is, an addict cannot.

Dakota Fanning is underwhelming but it isn’t her fault. Her character basically walks around or lays around holding her pregnant belly. She says very little until her confrontation scene with Franny which seems out of context because she hardly spends ANY time with him. How would she know he’s an addict or that he has problems? She is the one who called him out of the blue to get her husband a job. Out of love (and guilt), not only does Franny do it but he also buys the home she grew up in for her to raise her impending baby.

Theo James is all over the map, but again, not his fault. He doesn’t know Franny but accepts the position at the hospital, the house, the student loan being paid off, and a position on the board. I mean, he resists each of those things for a second–but ultimately takes them. When Franny asks him to write a prescription for morphine–well, he can’t do that, it’s illegal. Instead of helping Franny with something to take the edge off and getting him help, he flatly refuses and tells Franny never to come around his family again. How quickly he forgets how he got where he is in the first place.

The shaky up close shots in the beginning were distracting, the club and snuggle scenes with Franny and Dr. Harris were wasted time. (They can club together, take drugs, and snuggle but he won’t help a guy out with some morphine?)

Final thoughts

Overall, I don’t know the purpose of this film. If it’s to show a man addicted to painkillers as a way to deal with the guilt of losing his two best friends, then make it that. If it’s a film where a wealthy philanthropist meddles in the life of a young couple with his “generosity”, then make it that. The problem is, I don’t think the film knows what it wants to be so it tries on a few things and ends up being of little value to any of the potential stories or characters.

I give The Benefactor 1 out of 5. (1 for $1 dollar I spent at the dollar store.) It’s available on streaming services for free but it will still cost you an hour and 33 minutes of your life which likely more valuable. Watch the trailer below instead.

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