The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Benefactor

In The Benefactor, Richard Gere plays Franny, a wealthy, morphine-addicted philanthropist who owns a children's hospital. In a prologue, we see Franny and his two best friends (Cheryl Hines and Dylan Baker) getting into a car accident that he inadvertently causes. They're killed, but he survives. Cut to five years later. The deceased couple's now-grown daughter, Olivia (Dakota Fanning), makes contact with Franny. She's married to a doctor named Luke (Theo James) and about to give birth to their first child. Franny buys them a house, gets Luke a job at his hospital, and pays off his student loans. Really, he's just trying to assuage his guilt over the distraction that caused Olivia's parents to die. Try as he might, Franny cannot make his personal demons go away. In fact, contact with Olivia brings them all to the surface.

This is the kind of role that Richard Gere can absolutely nail, and he does. The actor specializes in playing men with inner torment. This time, he plays one whose anguish is channeled into an addiction. Gere does superb work not only conveying Franny's guilt, but also in detailing the anger of an addict who desperately wants to avoid sobriety because he's afraid of having to deal with his issues chemical-free. The Benefactor doesn't shy away from showing some of the darker ways in which addicts can spiral downward. Gere, as always, is up for the challenge, giving a performance where the under-the-surface emotions are just as intense as the overt behavior. This is more great work from an always-reliable actor.

The Benefactor undeniably has some poignant, powerful individual scenes. The problem is that writer/director Andrew Renzi leaves too many gaps for them to ever coalesce the way they should. For starters, the movie opens with the car accident, so we don't get to know much at all about Franny's friendship with the couple. His guilt is supposed to be the lynchpin of the plot, yet without a longer first act to show us how close they all were (and why), it never quite pays off.

There's additionally something odd about the fact that Olivia is a relatively minor player in the movie. Franny supposedly does all this stuff for her in an attempt to atone for his actions; the story focuses much more on his relationship with Luke, though. Olivia only becomes prominent in the last act, when there has to be some manufactured drama to force Franny to wake up.

On a scene-by-scene basis, The Benefactor is fairly decent. As a whole, it's severely lacking. A great movie is lurking in here somewhere. It just needed to fill in some sizable gaps. Still, Gere is brilliant as ever. Too bad his strong work is in the center of a plot that can't quite seal the deal.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Benefactor is unrated, but contains adult language and some disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.

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