Friday 19 January 2018

Gere

Though he really doesn't look it, Richard Gere will turn 64 in the summer. And he's waited till now to deliver what for me is a career-best performance. In Arbitrage, which was released here yesterday, he plays a billionaire hedge fund manager of a kind we've all come to cordially loathe in recent times.

Robert Miller, however, is odious above and beyond the call of duty. He buys and sells, lies and double-deals with the ease of a lizard, and is on the verge of selling his supposedly blue-chip hedge fund to an investment banker when he encounters a potentially fatal obstacle.

Though the patriarch of a superficially wholesome all-American family, Robert also has a glamorous young French mistress on the go, and when they are involved in a nasty car crash, Miller's house of cards is in real danger of collapsing. Robert's problems are compounded by severe financial irregularities in his company's books, and it's clear the character is based in part on Bernie Madoff.

Gere is really convincing as the amoral financier, and perfectly catches the arrogance of a man who thinks of ordinary folk as insects and is used to getting his own way.

His powerful performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination and might have led to an Oscar nomination as well, but Gere is not popular with the Academy – he was famously practically the only member of the musical Chicago's cast not to get an Oscar nomination in 2002.

He's a funny kind of actor, a sphinx-like individual with a very limited range that tends at times almost to stiffness and a CV that could only be described as patchy. After breaking through from nowhere as a Hollywood leading man in the late 1970s, he starred in such massive hits as American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman, and seemed on the point of superstardom.

Somehow, that never happened. He made bad career choices and earned a reputation for being difficult to work with and became notorious for his bad-tempered interactions with the press.

After a moribund 1980s, he bounced back in 1990 in the iconic romantic comedy Pretty Woman, only to fall off the radar again thereafter. He's never had a run of good films or sustained success at the box office, and yet miraculously has managed to remain an A-list star.

That's partly because the camera loves him, partly because he oozes a kind of effortless onscreen charisma you are born with, not taught. And while a poor script can make him seem wooden, he's a clever actor who long ago learned that when it comes to movies, less is definitely more.

Born in Philadelphia on August 31, 1949, Gere favoured music rather than drama as a child, and learned to play guitar and piano (that really is him playing in Pretty Woman). But after getting a gymnastics scholarship to the University of Massachusetts he discovered the stage, and instantly fell in love with it.

He dropped out of college to pursue a career in acting, and after struggling for a few years got a break when he landed a lead role in the London production of the musical, Grease.

Gere's big advantage was that he was dark, lithe and almost unfeasibly handsome, and it seemed only a matter of time before Hollywood took notice of him.

His first film role of note came in the 1977 drama Looking for Mr Goodbar, which starred Diane Keaton as an emotionally repressed Irish-American schoolteacher. Gere really caught the eye as a street hustler with whom she becomes involved, and the actor would later come to specialise in playing morally ambiguous charmers.

In 1978, Terrence Malick cast him in a peach of a role in his dark psychological drama Days of Heaven, about a ruthless young man who encourages his girlfriend to feign love with an elderly farmer in order to claim his money. Malick's film is now considered a classic, but it was misunderstood by critics at the time and as a consequence Gere didn't get the credit he deserved. He recently described Days of Heaven as "my only great movie".

It was Paul Schrader's American Gigolo that made him a star. A noir thriller, it starred Gere as a vain and superficial Los Angeles gigolo who gets framed for murder after falling in love with the unhappy wife of a city politician. The character was right up his street, and his fine performance led to his being cast in perhaps his most famous role.

A kind of template for films like Top Gun, Taylor Hackford's An Officer and a Gentleman told of a boy from a bad family struggling to prove himself at a naval flight school. Gere was unforgettably dashing as Zach Mayo, and An Officer and a Gentleman was one of the most acclaimed films of 1982.

Gere was poised for greatness: instead his career slowly floundered. Appearing in duds like King David and The Cotton Club certainly didn't help, but neither did the actor's sometimes questionable judgment.

He turned down the role of John McClane in Die Hard, which in fairness wouldn't have suited him one bit, but also the part of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, which might have transformed his fortunes entirely and is not a million miles away from the character he plays in Arbitrage.

He bounced back in Pretty Woman, where his sophisticated reserve was a perfect foil for Julia Roberts's natural effervescence, but annoyed fans of the movie recently by dismissing it as a "silly romantic comedy".

He made other good films, like Chicago and The Hoax, but not nearly enough for a star of his magnitude. In fact, for long periods of his career Gere has been more famous for his Buddhism and his relationships with beauties such as Cindy Crawford.

He has a notoriously spiky relationship with the press. Gere has said the "the press and being hounded. . . is the part that makes you crazy".

And while he once declared that "I don't want to be a personality", some interviewers have suggested he doesn't have a personality to begin with.

Harriet Lane of the Guardian compared talking to the actor to "interviewing the 43 bus", and Gere even gave the affable Graham Norton a hard time on his BBC chat show. He refused to answer questions, claimed not to remember much about his younger days and at one point became so obtuse that Norton asked him "were you in Officer and a Gentleman?".

Richard Gere is a complex man, conflicted about fame and seemingly a bad judge of scripts. But he's also a bona fide star, and a heartthrob to an entire generation of females who came of age in the early 1980s.

And in Arbitrage, he shows he's not a bad actor at all when he puts his mind to it.

pwhitington@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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