The Benefactor

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Benefactor Movie Poster Image
Despite great cast, melodrama has little to say; drug use.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 92 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Encourages caution when accepting extreme generosity -- just because you feel in someone's debt doesn't mean you should break your moral or ethical code to help them. Shows how money, power, and influence don't translate into happiness, friendship, or fulfillment. Stresses that just because you're a philanthropist, that doesn't make you a good person; it just means you have money to give and know how to give it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Luke is observant, intelligent, and loving. Although he agrees to take a recreational drug with Franny, he refuses to write him an illegal prescription for an addictive painkiller, and he recommends Franny get help. Olivia is sweet and smart and wants to help Franny but doesn't want him in her family's life if he continues his bullying and unhealthy ways.


Fatal car accident at the beginning of the movie; an injured character holds dying, bloody (and then dead) bodies that are visible as he sobs. An injured man stares at his scars more than once. A man grabs another man roughly but doesn't actually hit him.


A married couple embraces and kisses; a man discusses how much he loved a woman. Women at a gentlemen's club are dressed sexily and are shown dancing for men.


Many uses of "f---k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "p---y," "a--hole," and more.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Franny is addicted to painkillers and drinks a lot; he usually mixes liquor and painkillers. He also takes Ecstasy in one scene and smokes cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Benefactor is a psychological drama about a rich, painkiller-addicted philanthropist (Richard Gere) who has a close but dysfunctional friendship with a young married couple he's taken under his wing. The mature content includes frequent substance use/abuse, including three friends sharing a joint while driving, an older man drinking until drunkenness, two men taking Ecstasy, a man abusing a controlled opiate for which he no longer has a prescription, and adults smoking cigarettes. In addition to substance use, there's frequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "ass," "p---y," "a--hole," etc.) and a scene in which it seems like a man is going to proposition another man for a sexual favor (but instead it's for an illegal prescription). The movie could prompt conversations about nepotism and when it's wiser not to accept others' generosity because there might be invisible strings attached.

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What's the story?

In the prologue to THE BENEFACTOR, Franny (Richard Gere), a philanthropist who has endowed a Philadelphia children's hospital, tells his best friends Bobby (Dylan Baker) and Mia (Cheryl Hines) that he's excited that their only child, Olivia (Dakota Fanning), is about to go off to college, because he'll get his friends back to himself. Moments later, the three adults are in a tragic accident that only Franny survives. Five years later, Franny, now looking very Howard Hughes-esque in his Philadelphia mansion, is awoken from a prescription-drug-addled haze by a phone call from Olivia, now a pregnant married woman of about 23. She and her new doctor husband, Luke (Theo James), would love to move to Philadelphia -- if Luke could perhaps score a residency at that hospital Olivia's father helped Franny found. Thus begins Franny's new lease on life. He shaves, slaps on a bespoke suit, pops more painkillers, and begins to immediately treat Olivia (whom he calls by her childhood nickname, "Poodles") and Luke with the over familiarity of a cool but slightly creepy uncle. As he bestows more and more generosity on the couple, an uncomfortable Luke begins to question what strings and expectations come with being favored by Franny.

Is it any good?

Gere is a master at playing wealthy, entitled men, but his over-the-top portrayal crosses the line into cringe-worthy in this drama that initially shows promise but ultimately doesn't deliver. Franny is a compelling character, but he doesn't add up. Despite his aggressive alpha-male charm, he seems to have had only two friends (Olivia's parents) his entire adult life. He's got underlings, employees, and recipients of his largesse, but no friends? And when "Poodles" -- a nickname that's utterly as ridiculous and infantilizing as it sounds -- calls him, all of a sudden he's back in action, ready to swoop in and pay off Luke's debts, buy them Olivia's childhood home, and make Luke the heir apparent to the hospital, even though the proud young doctor is at once grateful for and uncomfortable with so much generosity.

Since Olivia/Poodles is in her third trimester, she's relegated to lounging around for most of the film, giving Fanning, a fine young actress, virtually nothing to do. So it's James, best known as love interest Four in the Divergent movies, who gets to play the nuance against Gere's bro-hugger. Franny fixates on Luke in an almost psychosexual way -- so much so that at one point he literally walks in as Luke's changing out of a tuxedo, and the shot shows Franny's face inches from Luke's boxers. But it's not that kind of favor Franny wants, it's another prescription for morphine. So instead of a story about a manipulative master of the universe with no friends but deep pockets and loads of charities, writer-director Andrew Renzi's drama devolves into just another addiction tale. As a character study, there needed to be more of a back story than Franny's guilt, and as an addiction story, it just isn't very interesting. At the very least it proved that James deserves more dramatic work.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Benefactor's portrayal of substance use. How are race and class issues connected to Franny's drug use? Is it explored differently because his character is white and rich?

  • What does the movie's title mean? How/why did Franny's aggressive generosity come with particular expectations? Is that believable?

  • What's the difference between Franny bestowing his friend/Olivia's dad with important roles and giving those same jobs to her young husband, Luke? Is it wrong to accept something you know you didn't earn or deserve?

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