I have no plans to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel anytime soon, though I’m sure I’ll end up watching it some night down the road when I’m trying to fall asleep. The movie features Richard Gere in a supporting role, which makes it grade-A insomniac viewing as far as I’m concerned. I find Gere to be a soothing presence in everything he’s done post-Dr. T & the Women—a run of generally mediocre, but almost always competently made films that, if nothing else, grant the actor plenty of opportunities to look handsome. Gere isn’t the only movie star to have aged gracefully, though few others have made a spectacle of it to the degree that he has. Indeed the chief pleasure of such forgettable pictures as The Hoax, The Hunting Party, and The Double is watching Gere deflect whatever mediocrity comes his way. After weathering years in the spotlight, embarrassing rumors, getting banned from the People’s Republic of China, and more than his share of terrible movies (No Mercy, Final Analysis, Intersection, First Knight, et cetera), his charm is pretty much inviolable.
Every now and then, Gere delivers a truly fine performance to remind the world he doesn’t just make movies to raise money for his humanitarian campaigns. His work in the recent Arbitrage, for instance, made that film seem much more nuanced than it actually was. Nicholas Jarecki’s thriller was a fairly self-satisfied condemnation of the investment banking industry, starring Gere as a hedge fund tycoon who successfully dodges a criminal investigation into his corrupt practices. The movie sticks close to the perspective of Gere’s antihero, making viewers complicit with him—one wants to see him save his skin even though he’s clearly guilty. Jarecki’s script is an all-too-tidy morality play about our country’s failure to prosecute unethical bankers, but Gere elevates it effortlessly—having grown accustomed to stardom, he makes the character’s entitlement seem natural. Robert Miller doesn’t come across as a mere villain, but a compelling sociopath who can’t recognize how evil he is. Few actors could have played the part better.
Some of Gere’s best performances have been as criminals and sociopaths. Though he’s coasted on his good looks in many films, he’s also recognized from the beginning of his career that a good appearance can be only just that. It’s not incidental that his breakout role was as a sexual sadist, in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, or that the quintessential film of his early career is American Gigolo, in which he plays a prostitute with no inner life whatsoever. Other highlights of his filmography include: Jim McBride’s underrated remake of Breathless, featuring Gere as a criminal even more boyish than the one played by Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard’s original; Sidney Lumet’s Power, a would-be Network for the 1980s (obvious and self-important, but not without its moments) starring Gere as a sleazy political consultant; and Internal Affairs, a corrupt-cop drama with Gere as the villain.
Breathless, Affairs, Mr. Jones, and Chicago contain Gere’s most animated work, revealing a manic energy that no other films have fully exploited. Jones, Mike Figgis’s well-meaning but naive attempt to educate mainstream audiences about bipolar disorder, is a personal guilty pleasure. As someone with bipolar disorder, I find Gere’s performance (which comes in the wake of Pretty Woman, when Gere’s self-regard was at its height) rather unconvincing, but I love that he’d want audiences to associate the condition with someone as handsome as him. In any case, the film showcases the actor’s affinity for characters struggling with madness, which Gere would employ to subtler effect in Bee Season, where he played a neurotic academic.
Dr. T & the Women marks the turning point in Gere’s career, the film in which he acknowledged he was no longer young and started aging in stride. His watershed work in that film is one of the few genuine star turns in Robert Altman’s filmography—in fact, the movie probably would have fallen apart without him. Playing an in-demand Dallas gynecologist who can’t get beautiful women to leave him alone, Dr. T is an epic joke on the actor’s sex appeal. Whereas Gere radiated charisma in his earlier films, in Dr. T he’s the eye of the storm. The movie rages around him, but he stays unflappable, projecting an inner calm rather than outward confidence. It’s one of the greatest straight man performances in American movie comedy, an act of composure that approaches the beatific. Gere’s recent performances suggest an ongoing series of variations on that triumph, and frankly I could watch him do it for another few decades.