The poster for “The Benefactor” ominously reads “His help comes at a price.” The price in question is the hard-earned money you’ll plop down for Andrew Renzi’s directorial debut, and quite possibly, your sanity. I drove myself crazy trying to find purpose in this story. It plays like a thriller that's thrills have been edited out. Renzi’s screenplay zigs and zags through a convoluted tale, often threatening to go down a potentially interesting avenue but always stopping short on the corner. The result is a series of disparate plot elements barely held together by a flimsy character arc. By the time an angry Dr. Luke (Theo James) tells the titular benefactor, Franny (Richard Gere) “You’re just a junkie with guilt!” you’re liable to yell at the screen “Well, DUH!”
Had the film focused solely on Franny’s struggles with morphine addiction, it might have felt less scatterbrained. Instead, we’re given extraneous storylines designed to make us feel sorry for Franny’s predicament. Gere’s skill as an actor should have been enough to elicit a warranted sense of viewer empathy, but “The Benefactor” doesn’t trust its audience. It has to overdo everything to make its points, forcing Franny to behave so oddly that I’m surprised anyone could be around him more than 30 seconds before running for their lives. And that’s before we get to the supposedly spooky, expensive help mentioned on the poster.
“The Benefactor” opens with a fatal car accident inadvertently caused by Franny. In the car are his best friends (Dylan Baker and Cheryl Hines), the parents of Olivia (Dakota Fanning). Since she was a little girl, Olivia idolized Franny, but after the accident the two lose touch. Five years later, Olivia calls Franny out of the blue, hoping to secure a job for her new husband, Dr. Luke, at Franny’s hospital. Since the hospital was financed and built as a labor of love for Olivia’s parents, Franny is eager to help her out.
Luke gets the job, but he also inherits a boss who has no concept of personal space nor boundaries. (Franny is a man who, I kid you not, killed his friends with a hug.) Luke’s benefactor immediately injects himself into Luke’s life, paying off his student loans, buying him clothes and purchasing Olivia’s childhood home for the couple. Luke feels emasculated. He complains that his manhood is being infringed upon by Franny’s meddling. But Franny brushes off Luke’s concerns, saying he’s doing it all for Olivia’s benefit. Does he have an ulterior motive? Or is he just acting out of guilt?