Cast: Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Melanie Liburd, Xosha Roquemore
Director: Tom Shadyac
For some people, Brian Banks is a pretty standard biographical drama that intimately details the failures of the justice system to provide a truthful verdict and the impact it has had on one man’s life. To me, it can be argued that Brian Banks is the scariest horror movie of the year. Not because of its jump scares or monsters, but because of the reality its based and the fact that these can and do happen to innocent men everywhere. The case of Brian Banks (Hodge) is potentially one of my biggest fears and is a story I’ve heard about extensively before seeing this movie. That being said, what had the potential to be one of the most emotional and graphic dramas of the year was reduced to sappy, generic, by-the-books biography.
The film follows Brian Banks, a star high school football player who is on the path to a Division 1 scholarship and eventually the NFL. All of that changes when classmate Kennisha Rice (Roquemore) falsely accuses him of raping her and Brian ends up spending six years in prison; effectively dashing any hopes he had at a successful future. When he gets put on probation, Banks hires California Innocence Project lawyer Justin Brooks (Kinnear) to overturn his conviction and give him a chance to live the life he wanted to live. Starting with the positives, the characters are extremely well-written and display the proper emotions in almost every scene. I can’t imagine the type of trauma that Banks went through in prison and afterwards while he was trying to put his life back together, but Hodge shows us that he’s a truly talented actor by showcasing the balance of Brian’s life. Whether this is the pain and anger caused by his situation or the forgiveness he must accept if he is to ever move on in his life, Hodge brilliantly reflects on the struggles of Banks and would make the real-life Banks very proud. On the other hand, Kennisha may end up being my final pick for worst character of the year. For her to take joy in destroying another man’s life and walk away with millions is absolutely sickening, but it’s grounded in reality. There are real people out there who would have no problem ruin another person’s life just to set themselves up with financial security, and seeing just how vile, despicable, and remorseless Kennisha and her mother are shows just what evil looks like in the real world. Outside of the characters though, the movie tends to fall flat and really capitalize off of this man’s tragedy. The story seems generally formulaic with the more dramatic moments feeling planned out and unnatural like it’s a scripted TV movie. Instead of these moments swelling up with emotion and coming up with a purpose, it feels more you could put generic information about the scene in the script and the point would still come across. The movie is full of “Brian learns to let go of his pain” and “Justin has doubts about whether or not he can get this conviction overturned” scenes that all melodramatic movies have, but a movie like this deserves better. As long as we live in a world where evil people can rape or falsely accuse others of rape, stories like Brian Banks need to be told, but they also need to be told better.
Overall, if not for the very personal performance by Hodge, Brian Banks would’ve ended up on some sort of religious/Lifetime channel. Instead, Hodge elevates the mediocre script and creates a world and story that stays with you long after watching the movie. The real Brian Banks is very clearly a stronger person than I am, and after watching Brian Banks, the only thing I wish is for Brian to find peace and happiness during the rest of his life.
Overall Score: 5.5/10