FILM REVIEW – BRIAN BANKS. With Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Xosha Roquemore, Morgan Freeman. Written by Doug Atchison. Directed by Tom Shadyac. Rated PG-13 for thematic content and related images, and for language. 161 minutes.
The whole trial is out-of-order!
Criminal justice reform is a topic that comes up in legal and political debates, but if you’re not employed by (or subject to) the system, its injustices are largely invisible. BRIAN BANKS personalizes those injustices in telling the true-life story of a young man, sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, fighting to clear his name even after he’s been paroled.
Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge) was a high school football star with a scholarship for USC when he was arrested and charged with kidnapping and rape of a classmate. It never happened, but the system pressures him to take a plea deal rather than face trial. Contrary to what he was told, his “no contest” plea leads to a prison sentence.
Now out on parole, and required to register as a “sex offender,” his supposed freedom turns out to be severely limited. It’s difficult to find someone willing to employ him, and the conditions of his parole restrict him in ways big and small. He reaches out to Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear), a lawyer who runs the California Innocence Project, devoted to helping the wrongly convicted. There’s all sorts of reasons Brooks shouldn’t take on the case, not the least of which is the almost negligible possibility that they will succeed, but he does so.
In this era of #metoo, it’s interesting to note that the real life case turned on getting the accuser to admit that she had lied. Instead of making Kennisha (Xosha Roquemore) the villain of the piece, she turns out to have been victimized by her own mother. The message seems to be that women should be believed, but accusations have to be supported by facts. In Banks’ case, even a cursory investigation would have revealed that her story wasn’t true.
Hodge plays Banks with such quiet strength that it conveys what it must have taken the real man to bear up under the circumstances. A turning point was a teacher at the prison who reached out to him, played by Morgan Freeman in a cameo role. Kinnear offers able support as Brooks, combining a sense of fun with a seriousness of purpose. Sherri Shepherd also gets a standout moment as Banks’ mother, speaking of the toll our broken justice system has taken on her as well.
“Brian Banks” is a thoughtful movie that celebrates those who persevere over injustice, but also allows us to see what’s being done in our name, as with the prosecutor speaking “for the people.” Those seeking a quieter and more grown-up movie – where the heroes don’t need special effects – will want to take a look.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.