Brian Banks, written by Doug Atchison (Akeelah and the Bee) and directed by Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty), tells the powerful true story of the eponymous former Atlanta Falcons linebacker. Part underdog sports story and part riveting legal drama, this film offers a compelling, albeit imperfect portrait of one man’s courage to stand up for the truth.
Banks’s story is equally heartbreaking and inspiring. The movie picks up after Banks is released from prison after being falsely accused of rape as a teenager and follows him through his quest to get exonerated. This allows the film to feel uplifting rather than overly grim. Of course, the movie does discuss the darker elements of his experience to the extent that it is necessary, but the focus is firmly on how his life made him grow as a person.
The main message of this film is perseverance, particularly in relation to pursuing one’s dreams. Over the course of his experiences, Banks never gave up despite the tremendous obstacles he faced, and the movie really emphasizes his strength of will and the amount of hard work he was required to do in order to achieve his dreams and goals. Ultimately, the film encourages you to never stop fighting for your dreams, because if Banks can reach the NFL despite being wrongfully convicted, anything is possible.
Aldis Hodge gives a phenomenal performance as Banks. This movie will almost certainly allow Hodge to break out, as it shows that he has the ability to be a compelling and likable leading man. For the most part, the story speaks for itself, but even in those parts where the film does begin to feel slightly melodramatic, Hodge’s performance grounds the movie emotionally, restoring it to its more realistic tone.
Banks’s legal ally, Justin Brooks, is played by Greg Kinnear in the film, and he does a solid job in his role. Hodge will frequently steal the scene from Kinnear, but even so, Kinnear is able to deliver a subtle and effective performance. Although the character arc that Brooks has feels significantly less important and resonant than Banks’s, it is nonetheless sympathetic and does a good job of adding another layer of emotion to the movie.
The only instance of character development that is rather lackluster is Banks’s mentor, Jerome Johnson, who is portrayed by Morgan Freeman. Although the character is very interesting, and Freeman is given quite a few scenes in which he is able to shine, it feels like there is something missing in relation to this part of the story. Perhaps this is tied to the accusations against Freeman, but it feels like his part was cut down to the bare minimum. He isn’t even credited for his role.
One of the most frustrating things about the film is that the dialogue is frequently cheesy. The story is very good, and as a result, the emotion is able to come through easily. However, the dialogue can draw you out of the movie with its sometimes misguided nature. For example, there is a scene in which two characters are discussing Banks’s status as a sex offender, and another character describes being afraid to confess that she is an art major to being afraid of confessing to be a sex offender. This was a decision made in poor taste.
The pacing of the film is also a bit underwhelming. Obviously, there has to be quite a bit of time compression to tell a story in an hour and a half that takes place over the course of months. The movie feels rushed when it gets to the point when Banks is actively working towards his exoneration, though, with not enough time being spent on the case. This seems to be a conscious decision made by the filmmakers, but it results in the second half going by too quickly.
On a technical level, the film wasn’t bad, but this is where the independent nature of the movie becomes obvious. The story and performances are so powerful that it is disappointing to see the execution be so average. For the most part, the film looks like a made-for-TV movie with an A-list cast and a phenomenal true story. Had the visuals been a bit more up-to-par, the movie as a whole could have been even more impactful.
Despite a few issues and the script and flawed execution, the true story of Brian Banks shines through and makes the film enjoyable and inspiring. If you are a fan of uplifting dramas, this is one you will definitely want to check out, as it is better than most that have come out in recent years.
Brian Banks opens in theaters on August 9.