Brian Banks (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
The story of Brian Banks is an inspirational one, despite the circumstances surrounding Banks’ wrongful incarceration.
Aldis Hodge is a star-on-the-rise, and he gives a terrific performance in the title role.
Pulls for the heartstrings, is competently made, and could stir some emotions with viewers.
More often than not, Brian Banks feels like a television, or made-for-cable movie - just one with a larger budget.
Hammers home its points heavy, which is unfortunate because the points its making are valid and important.
Perhaps a documentary would have suited Brian Banks’ story more appropriately.
Coinciding its release with the launch of the NFL’s preseason kick off to the 2019 NFL season, Brian Banks tells us about an NFL prospect who saw those dreams and aspirations cut short when he was found guilty of a crime he never committed. Earnest in its approach, but squarely on-the-nose with its dialogue and delivery, director Tom Shadyac’s best intentions fall somewhat short of the goal line.
Disappointingly, this is a paint-by-numbers presentation we have seen a few too many times before.
A highly coveted high school football recruit, with plans to play for the USC Trojans and head coach Pete Carroll (Matt Battaglia), his life is changed forever when he crosses paths with a student, Kaneesha Rice (Xosha Roquemore), during summer school one afternoon. Caught up in a moment, they sneak off to a place on campus known as the 700 Building, where a lack of attention from students and staff alike, allows students to sneak around and engage in behaviors their parents likely would not be cool with.
When Brian hears a noise, he panics and gets second thoughts about what is happening. Telling her he’s no longer interested, he leaves her in the stairwell, only to later be arrested in his home when he is accused of raping Kaneesha during their encounter. Bad advice from his attorney leads to a plea deal gone awry. As Banks finds himself sentenced to prison, Kaneesha and her mother would go on to successfully sue the school for $1.5 million for failing to “protect her from the attack.”
Because Banks is a co-producer on the film, and since many know his story, these are not spoilers. And to their credit, Shadyac and writer Doug Atchison (Akeelah and the Bee) successfully walk a very fine line between blaming Kaneesha for her lies and exposing a criminal justice system that wrongly convicted an innocent man.
Nonetheless, while the details of what Banks faces are awful to consider, and his being jailed is evidence of a broken criminal justice system, appearing all too comfortable applying a different set of standards for people of color in many jurisdictions within America, there is a surprising lack of veracity in how all of this is presented.
An accomplished actor, Hodge shines in his first major leading role. He finds a depth and understanding of his character which elevates Atchison’s rather rudimentary screenplay. Greg Kinnear enters the film and is every bit as solid as one would expect. He plays Justin Brooks, an empathetic attorney who refuses to help Banks because his advocacy team, the California Innocence Project, helps people currently serving time for crimes they did not commit. With Banks on parole, and desperate to clear his name, Brooks nonetheless brushes him aside because of a long list of clients needing his services.
However, putting two and two together, we know exactly how their relationship will end up.
Structurally, the film offers few surprises. Elements of Banks’ story, as presented, are more curiosities than anything else, including a surprising crossing of paths with Kaneesha years after her allegations put him behind bars. Composer John Debney lands all of his music cues, but again, because we have seen this movie so many times before, we anticipate every rise and fall of a score Shadyac relies on to create emotional touchpoints we should be entrusted to make on our own.
Thankfully, we have Hodge walking us through the film. Shadyac has confidence in his leading man, and largely steers him away from the preachy monologue or on-the-nose symbolism. Those moments are left for a poorly written Sherri Shepherd, portraying Brian’s mother, Leomia. A potential love interest, Karina (Melanie Liburd), is also vastly under-developed, leaving Hodge to carry more of this movie than he should have to.
In real life, Banks was given an opportunity to finally make it to the NFL, when Carroll invited him to try out with the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. Eventually, in 2013, Banks took the field in the preseason with the Atlanta Falcons and actualized his dream of playing in the NFL. However, all the years away cannibalized his incredible talents and his childhood dreams would soon be dashed, though he would eventually land an administrative role with the league.
It is important to know that Banks never stopped fighting for his freedom. It is important to show us that minorities and vulnerable communities are more susceptible to situations like one Banks experienced. On a basic surface-level, Shadyac covers that.
And yet, the Brian Banks story, in its breadth and scope, begs for more.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd, Xosha Roquemore, Tiffany Dupont, Kevin Yamada.
Director: Tom Shadyac
Written by: Doug Atchison
Release Date: August 9, 2019
Bleecker Street Media