Directed By Tom Shadyac
Starring – Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Melanie Liburd
The Plot – The inspirational true story of Brian Banks (Hodge), an All-American high school football star committed to USC who finds his life upended when he is wrongly convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Despite lack of evidence, Banks is railroaded through a broken justice system and sentenced to a decade of prison and probation. Years later, with the support of Justin Brooks (Kinnear) and the California Innocence Project, Banks fights to reclaim his life and fulfill his dreams of playing in the NFL.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content and related images, and for adult language
– A pleasant surprise. Heading into this film, I simply wasn’t ready to see another religious film, and thankfully “Brian Banks”, despite dabbling in religious production companies, doesn’t rely too heavily on religious subtext. Not that I have a problem overall with religious movies, but more times than not, they try to overly sell a point that not everyone in the audience can relate to, but this film is one of the best in that category if it can even be considered one. There are moments of religious aspects, mainly in the idea of Morgan Freeman playing a god-like figure to Brian (Imagine that), inspiring him to constantly get up and keep on pushing forward. The film is solid enough, but made even better when you treat it like the unintentional “Bruce Almighty” sequel that it should be.
– Eye-opening. The most important stance that this movie commits to is the poignancy in details that it submits on behalf of the many who are wrongfully imprisoned everyday. The film alludes us to the idea that many on trial are coerced into accepting pleas for the sake of a lesser sentence, and not taking into consideration what they’re accepting as a result of it. In addition to this, the lack of digging with the investigation that often overlooks pivotal points in the state’s argument that could easily dismiss it all, and save a man from possibly losing his life for something he did not do. In Brian’s case, a new lease on life as this sexual predator, who can’t gain a decent job, or catch up with any new friends because he is constantly judged on this one dark day that isn’t even true in the first place. It proves that our justice system is still as faulty as ever, and brings to life a true American horror story that unfortunately so many face in an uphill climb every single day.
– Dubious duo. The work of Hodge and Kinnear easily made the movie for me, in terms of credible performances. For Hodge, the title character is one that is equally as challenging in the physical capacity as it is endearing in the mental one. Brian is a fighter in life, and sometimes his greatest strength in hope also serves as the devastating blow that is constantly taken away from him, and Aldis perseveres with a buzzworthy performance that proves that many more dramatic castings are clearly in his future. Greg Kinnear continues to be one of the coolest on-screen actors that I’ve still ever seen, but it’s not his cool factor that makes his character so compelling, but the responsibility in constantly playing both sides of the field in this mental debate about Brian’s innocence. It pushes him to the limits of finding that one extraordinary piece of evidence in this case, and Kinnear’s unraveling easiness outlines a layer of urgency for the picture that isn’t always as dependable within inconsistent production value.
– Proper framing. I had doubts about telling a story so big with so many character dynamics in a mostly flashback device, but the film nearly pulls everything off, complete with precise pacing that never lags or implodes on the weight of many directions. Shadyac begins the film with a current day narrative, then goes back two years to show us the audience how we got to this point. Where this is usually faulty in film is it creates a barrier of pause in between every jump forward and backward in the plot, instead of continuously building within this straight line of real time events. It works here however, because it’s Brian’s current struggles that the film values more in exposited time, donating a majority of the storytelling within this time frame. Convolution problems do stem during aspects of a flashback being told inside of another flashback, but the communication to the audience is easy enough to never lose or confuse them, adding simplicity to something that is usually so complex in transitioning exposition.
– Return to form. Shadyac as a director of the 90’s was always a product of cheeseball comedies like “Bruce Almighty” (There it is again) and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”, but most recently with this film and 2015’s “Racing Extinction”, his priorities seem to be within the air of sentimentality, expressing a rich maturity in importance the longer he helms his pictures. Even with this maturity however, the 90’s vibes remain prominent in his films, with this one’s visuals and shot composition feeling like something that was practically lifted from the decade. What I love about this is it transforms its cinematography to feel reflective of an age that is almost twenty years in the past, instead of feeling like a movie that lives and breathes within this 2019 bubble of reality beyond the lens of the camera. Shadyac’s filmography is as eclectic as anyone in Hollywood, and it will certainly be interesting to see what he is doing ten years down the line.
– The less you know, the better. This is a film that is more rewarding for the people like me, who knew very few of the details associated within the case. This is anything but a courtroom drama of a movie, residing inside of the judge’s chambers for only about ten minutes of the 95 minute run time, so really it’s the angles behind closed doors that the movie takes immense importance in. Because of this, we get a lot of twists and turns within proving Brian’s innocence, and establishing a layer of intrigue and uncertainty that really kept me glued to how far Brian and his lawyer would have to go to prove his innocence. The film is frustrating, but in a good way that inspires people to get involved, especially as is the case with another innocent woman on death row for over twenty years, who Kinnear’s character is still battling through.
– Dual responsibility. The problem with believability rears its ugly head during the high school scenes, where the decision to remain consistent with Hodge playing the role becomes a laughably bad problem to the integrity of the film. Hodge looks about as believable as a high school student as James Van Der Beek did in “Dawson’s Creek”, and in my opinion there should’ve been multiple actors used during particular ages in Brian’s multiple timelines. To leave it with one consistent actor brings forth some unintentional laughs in the form of comparison with other classmates, bumbling hip dialogue that elaborates the teenage experience as easy as khaki dads can, and absolutely no make-up or prosthetics included to transform the age of our actor.
– Television production values. There are many things to point to in this section, but the main ones deal with delayed editing, obvious dialogue, and rating limitations which keep it from telling the compelling part of a character arc. On the latter of that triple thud, the prison part of the story doesn’t focus enough for long enough on the adversities of prison that better establish his strength for remaining positive in such a dire situation. There’s a hint at a prison rape storyline, which never materializes after Brian fights back, and his opponent vanishes in thin air. As for the other two, the editing constantly pulls away from a transition scene about a second too late, losing spans of momentum frequently, and keeping it from carrying over to the following scene. Finally, the dialogue in the film, especially late in the third act, is so on-the-nose and full of re-affirmations that beat us over the head with what we already know from the previous hour of the movie. Mostly, it’s in the hands of protagonists or antagonists who lay on their respective opinions hard, fighting against any layer of complexity or originality to make them vital to what’s transpiring in the scene. Really it’s just endless repetition, and weighs down a true life story that was done entertainingly enough until then.
– Cheap villain device. I think the focus is completely wrong here. Instead of focusing on the perils of flaws in the justice system, the film is given a face late in the second act to unload all of our ill feelings against. These two character’s, especially the victim, are so completely over the top that I couldn’t take them seriously each time they’re on screen, and if it wasn’t for the horrendous acting that they never commit to even remotely, I wouldn’t have felt even a shred of empathy for either one of them. This device is too easy to be satisfying, and doesn’t reach for the bigger, more responsible target that the screenplay doesn’t have the guts to reach for, which in turn could’ve set it apart from other criminal injustice films with the production to make up for such faults.
– NFL aspect. I commend the film for going the extra mile to pay for the rights not only of professional NFL teams, but also in factual names, who played a pivotal role in Brian’s story. Where my problem lies is in the casting of Pete Carroll, the coach of U.S.C, who recruited Brian to play for his team. There’s an actor who plays him, who not only looks nothing like Pete, but is only really in one scene in the movie, which could’ve easily been kept out of the finished product. It gets sketchy towards the end, when Pete is shown on the sidelines hosting the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, with every scene showing him with his back turned to the camera, to so evidently keep the consistency of the actor’s face playing Pete front-and-center in the minds of the audience. It casts such an obvious unnecessity of a distraction to anyone who knows football, which would only be roughly 90% of the audience who go to see this movie in the first place.
My Grade: 6/10 or C-