Starring Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd, Xosha Roquemore
What you see is what you get with “Brian Banks.” The title is as unimaginative as the film itself. Based on the true story of a man wrongfully convicted in his teens attempting to reclaim his innocence. Director Tom Shadyac marks a return to feature films with the sort of feel-good story that made his career in the late ’90s. “Brian Banks” scoots by on a very compelling story that tugs at the viewer’s heartstrings. The performances are middling, nothing to write the Academy about, just above a made-for-tv-movie level. Aldis Hodge is the closest thing to a breakout, perhaps due more to his looks and charisma than performance. We’ve seen him before in bit parts in “Hidden Figures” and “Straight Outta Compton,” but tackling lead actor status here might land him in more prestigious future projects.
“There is no good way to tell a bad story,” Banks (Hodge) painfully admits to the first woman he has even tried to get involved with since his release. He’s telling her his story. When at 16 years old, he was accused of assault, rape, and kidnapping by a classmate at school. Though he was innocent, he was overwhelmed and confused by police interrogators. Naïve about the justice system and ill-advised by his attorney, he took a plea deal that left him in prison for six years. Banks, now 27, is a man whose life is defined by the terms of his parole and the monitoring device strapped to his ankle. Multiple attempts to contact the California Innocence Project have left the once-promising NFL player in despair. When he reaches out personally to Justin Brooks (Kinnear) the man behind the Innocence Project, his desperation and personal conviction, along with proof he didn’t do what he’s accused of, is enough for Brooks to take up the case.
This inspirational story simplifies facts and presents characters as one sided, which is almost all forgivable because of the good intentions the film promotes.
Aside from “Brian Banks” by the numbers David and Goliath narrative, Goliath being the broken California Justice System, it’s an eye opener on how seconds can ruin your life. “Brian Banks” also explores faults in the justice system and a reminder of how the system is simply made up of people who need convincing one way or another. There are lots of thematic elements to enrage the viewer, compelling our interest. While you might not meet someone as suave and kind as Brian Banks, every day on the street; Xosha Roquemore’s portrayal of the alleged victim and the films antagonist is quite effective. This inspirational story simplifies facts and presents characters as one sided, which is almost all forgivable because of the good intentions the film promotes.
While there is no great performance or stunning cinematography, not even a memorable original score; the lessons “Brian Banks” wants us to leave with are all too obvious. Morgan Freeman (who worked with Shadyac on “Bruce Almighty”) has an unaccredited and extended cameo as Bank’s mentor in prison. A mysterious God-like figure who gives him the strength and mental tools to survive. “Perspective is how one fairs in life.” Shadyac’s swan song remains the 1998 film “Patch Adams”, similarly a story of redemption above great odds. The bittersweet story starring Robin Williams was brimming with cinematic creativity and lively performance. The energy found in “Brian Banks” is low and unenthusiastic, as we hurdle toward a conclusion that’s evident and expected.
A powerful and compelling human drama that is cinematically standardized and artistically sterile.