I’ve written about misleading marketing a lot recently. I made a point of it when reviewing Bad Bromance (The D-Train) for example, which seemed to be a completely different film to the one that the trailers and posters were advertising. It’s something that has always been a problem with film, which is why I try and avoid trailers. But sometimes you can’t avoid them. When I saw the trailer for The Benefactor, I was intrigued by the stalker-like premise. And the DVD cover seemed to ram this point home, making the film look like a rather generic thriller. But having now seen the film, I got a much different film than I expected. And honestly, a far better one.
Out now on DVD, The Benefactor tells the story of Franny (Richard Gere). After losing his best friends in a car accident five years earlier, Franny is a broken man. Lonely and addicted to painkillers, he lives a mundane existence in a hotel room. But when he sees an opportunity to get reacquainted with his deceased friends’ daughter (Dakota Fanning) and her new husband (Theo James), he makes himself an uncomfortable presence in their life. This is where the marketing got it all wrong. Watching the trailers, you assume Franny to be a psychopathic stalker. Even the film’s tagline, ‘his help comes at a price’, suggests something’s going to go wrong. But The Benefactor is actually a slow-burning melodrama about the effects of guilt, loss and drug addiction.
Without giving anything away, Franny doesn’t want to harm the young couple at all. Rather, he wants to mould them into his dead best friends; buying them their old house, for example. And while the first act of the film is rather atmospheric – at least, it feels it if you’ve got yourself in the mind-set that this is a stalker thriller – it soon slows down considerably to become a poignant story. Critically, and with audiences for that matter, The Benefactor didn’t go down well. I’ve seen it described as ‘a snoozefest’, ‘terrible’ and (and here’s the kicker) ‘not thrilling at all’. Therefore, I can only assume this poor response is due to the film’s horrendously poor marketing. For a rather extreme example, imagine if Schindler’s List was marketed as an action film - people would surely say “there’s no action in it!” and it would be a disaster. That is what has happened here. The Benefactor is not a thriller, so of course it hasn’t gone down well. But it is a fantastic piece of work.
Firstly, Richard Gere delivers arguably the finest performance of his career as the deeply troubled Franny. Singlehandedly showing the afore-mentioned effects of guilt, loss and drug addiction, Gere puts in a compelling performance that steals every single scene he is in. So much so, in the few scenes he doesn’t appear, his absence is greatly felt. Fanning and James are decent enough as the young couple, with more praise for the latter as Fanning doesn’t do much at all. And doesn’t it make you feel old, seeing Dakota Fanning playing a pregnant wife? 11(!!!) years ago, she was Tom Cruise’s kid in War of the Worlds. Time flies.
Andrew Renzi directs and writes here, which is always impressive – especially for a first timer. Making his feature-length debut after a few short films, Renzi has made a stunning film here which should get him a lot of attention and offers. But unfortunately, the marketing of The Benefactor has stopped the film from getting the attention and praise it deserves, and this could be a problem for Renzi. But hey, time will tell. If this film was marketed correctly, it could’ve been a big success.
The Benefactor is one of the best films released on DVD this year so far, and it would be a crime to not give it a look. It’s not the thriller that the DVD, poster and trailer suggest, but if you know that going in, hopefully it won’t be an issue. It wasn’t an issue at all for me, and I was expecting thrills and chills. What I got was a deep and poignant study of a broken man, with Richard Gere’s finest performance as an added bonus.
The Benefactor deserves your time, just like it deserved a better marketing team behind it. 4/5.
The Benefactor at CeX
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