“Brian Banks” is an example of a powerful, inspirational story that deserves a better film adaptation than it actually gets.
Let’s be clear: it’s not a bad film – not by a mile. Its chief strength is its performers, who one and all deliver earnest, compelling work.
That work goes a long way to lifting this film toward it being a memorable depiction of an incredible personal story of survival and vindication.
But all the heart and good intentions on display in “Brian Banks” aren’t enough to overcome a pedestrian script and lackluster direction. It’s solid work, but it should have been exceptional.
What’s it about?
The film brings to life the story of the real-life Brian Banks, played in the film by Aldis Hodge (“Straight Outta Compton“).
At 16 years old, Banks was on his way to a career in the NFL. A talented linebacker, his standout play at Polytech High School in Long Beach, California drew the attention of college coaches nationwide, including famed USC head coach Pete Carroll.
That bright future, however, was all but destroyed by a conviction for rape based on a false accusation. He was sentenced to prison, subsequent probation and registration as a sex offender.
Five years of prison and four years of probation later, Banks hoped to get his NFL dreams back on track. The crime he did not commit, though, still seemed to follow him everywhere.
Feeling his time and options all but run out, he reaches out to attorney Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear), who as part of the California Innocence Project worked to help wrongfully imprisoned individuals get their convictions overturned.
Brooks is reluctant at first to take the case, not because he doubts Banks’s story, but because he believes the justice system too far broken to exonerate Banks without any new and spectacular evidence.
Everything changes, though, when that new evidence literally pops up one day on Banks’s computer. The challenge then becomes how to get that evidence in front of the people who need to see it.
In other words, it becomes how to make a broken system work again to help an innocent man earn another shot at his lifelong dream.
Hodge, Kinnear lead exceptional cast
Again, what “Brian Banks” has going for it the most is talent in front of the camera.
Audiences unfamiliar with that earlier work should marvel at the depth and range of emotion, as well as the heart, that Hodge imbues into his depiction of Banks. It’s raw, riveting work that never fails to hold your attention.
Kinnear offers up a solid, good-guy complement to Hodge’s work in his turn as Brooks. The role doesn’t demand much, compared to other work Kinnear has delivered over the years, but he brings credible gravity, empathy, and intelligence to the role.
Morgan Freeman (“The Dark Knight Rises“) and Sherri Shepherd also deliver emotional turns in limited screen time as Banks’s mentor in prison and his mother, respectively.
If only “Brian Banks” had a script capable of pushing all these talented performers to their potential. What a film this might have been.
The final product, however, looks and sounds like an extremely polished, well-produced TV movie rather than a feature. Despite some creative editing, it’s predictable at times, to the point where savvy audiences should be able to hear lines even before the actors deliver them.
Again, does that make it a bad film, or not worth seeing? Not at all. The man behind this story, the real Brian Banks, his perseverance and his ongoing efforts to help those who currently face circumstances he was able to overcome, all make this film worth seeing and supporting.
It’s a story of hope, redemption, and strength of character. We need stories like this now more than ever, in times where cynicism is all but unavoidable in just about every aspect of modern life.
It’s just a shame that great story didn’t get a great film. It got a good one, but not a great one.
Starring Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd, Xosha Roquemore, and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Tom Shadyac.
Running time: 99 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic content and related images, and for language.