This got us thinking about an actor who could open a movie in the high millions from name alone, but who hasn’t really had a high profile role since 2002’s Chicago. What were the defining roles that had him shifting through the Geres to the A-List?
Allow us to sweep you up like Debra Winger to the tune of Up Where We Belong, and take a look back at his best moments…..
American Gigilo (1980)
As the focus of Paul Taxi Driver Schrader’s cautionary tale, Gere announced himself to the world as a character of duality, one who could perfectly embody the glamorous elements of the gigilo world, as well as its seedier underbelly.
It set a template for the actor in which he’d excel as conflicted characters, his narcissistic selfishness blowing up in his face when he’s accused of murder. Gere would carry that cocksure smugness throughout the most prolific years of his career, using it as a narrative arc in which he’d walk a line of morality, upon which you’d never be too sure which side he’d fall.
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Gere would carry that cold-hearted self-centeredness into Taylor Hackford’s old-fashioned romance. It allowed him to shed the scuzziness of Schrader’s world, but apply the arrogance of it to Zack Mayo, an aspiring Navy pilot with a superiority complex.
Once again this allows for the humanisation of a character, stripping away the pig-headedness that he does so well, through a combination of Louis Gosset Jr’s Academy Award winning grandstanding and Debra Winger’s love interest. The success of An Officer and a Gentleman connected Gere to a mainstream audience for the first time, but his subsequent choices of Breathless, The Cotton Club, and No Mercy, suggest that he was more comfortable exploring the darker narratives than conforming to Hollywood.
Internal Affairs (1990)
Ultimately this dark path would lead to Internal Affairs, in which he would employ that whispered ambiguity to perfection as corrupt cop Dennis Peck. The term ‘wooden’ has sometimes been levelled at Gere, and if that truly is the case, then it’s never sits better than here, with his unmoving, shark eyed lack of emotion, manifested as the ultimate skin-crawling character.
In an age when his Hollywood superstar peers were diluting their brand to appeal to the bean counters, its credit to Gere that he’d want to keep revisiting the shadows.
Pretty Woman (1990)
That same year brought with it Gere’s most successful film of his career. A skewed take on the Cinderella story, Gere’s prince-charming still carries a lot of the traits evident in the other films on this list. He seeks an emotional attachment as a substitute for the vacuous business dealings that occupy the void of life.
His Edward Lewis is very much peak Gere, underplayed to the point of bland, and because of this he makes a perfect foil for Julia Robert’s starmaking turn. The sexual politics of Pretty Woman might be a bit iffy to say the least; successful white businessman rescues a high-school dropout turned prostitute using his wealth, but thanks to Gere’s old-fashioned dialled back charm replacing the arrogance of previous roles, there’s a soft-focus delight to Garry Marshall’s fairytale romance, that wouldn’t work without him.
Primal Fear (1996)
The film that launched the career of Edward Norton, Gregory Hoblit’s Primal Fear was the movie with a twist before anyone had even heard of The Si6th Sense. What most people forget is how good Richard Gere was playing opposite him as the hoodwinked defence attorney.
Our exasperation at that ending is as much about the way in which this assured lawyer, portrayed by an actor in a mode with which we’re so familiar after a career full of strong confident characters, has been tricked, as it is about the narrative surprise. Without him in the role, bringing all of the baggage of his persona, as well as a commanding turn in the context of the film, the impact of that moment might not have been so effective.
Primal Fear arrived in the wake of medieval bomb, First Knight, and was swiftly followed by the ill-advised remake The Jackal, while an attempt to capture the lightning in a bottle success of Pretty Woman, by reuniting with Julia Roberts on Runaway Bride, met with middling results. That’s not to say that Gere’s post-90s output is all bad; The Mothman Prophecies is an intriguing mystery, and Hachi: A Dog’s Tale has its heart in the right place, but you get the feeling that Gere’s own is no longer in the moviemaking business.
Hopefully Norman: The Moderate Rise and the Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer will kickstart a revival.