Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Innocence & insistence power Tom Shadyac's legitimately feel-good film, BRIAN BANKS

A true-life tale that shines a most interesting light on  -- immediately and without any undue effort -- everything from the Black Lives Matter and Me2 movements to our woeful criminal justice system, BRIAN BANKS tells the story of the high-school student of the title, a 16-year-old boy with the not-at-all-impossible dream of playing for the NFL, whose life and career are cut short by an accusation leading to a prison term that destroys any possible football career. How this young man, seemingly innocent from just about every angle imaginable, sets out to prove this innocence against the odds is what lies ahead.

From a screenplay by Doug Atchison and directed by Tom Shadyac (shown at left), Brian Banks turns out to be that relatively rare "inspirational" movie that actually proves to be genuinely inspiring, rather than the faux feel-good we usually get from this genre. Mr. Atchison's screen-writing and dialog are up to the task at hand, while Mr. Shadyac's direction is just as good, seldom hitting things too hard or repeating what we know.

If repetition does occur -- as when Brian (played exceedingly well by Aldis Hodge, above and below) is told, over and over by the very folk he implores to help him -- this is for good reason, as he (and we) come to better understand just how loaded and unfair the criminal justice system is for the certain types of people who can so easily become incarcerated for years/decades. And, yes, I mean poor and/or "of color," rather than, say, Jeffrey Epstein.

What makes the movie -- and from all accounts, the man himself -- so stirring and active-positive, is Banks' unrelenting fervor and determination to prove his innocence. Mr. Hodge turns what could become annoying, repetitive and even tiresome into something rich and mammoth.

Hodge, who looks remarkably similar to the real Brian, wins us over completely, just as he does the folk from the California Innocence Project to whom he turns for help. The group's leader, Justin Brooks, played with his usual professionalism and subtle flair by Greg Kinnear (at right, below), is loathe to take on Brian as a client because the deck is so stacked against Banks that Brooks feels the result will only defeat and depress this prisoner, now a parolee, even further.

Interestingly, we don't learn the details of just why Brian has been tossed into prison until about a half-hour into the film. This is smart movie-making because it keeps us in a certain suspense, even as we grow to appreciate Brian himself. And when we do finally see what happened and meet Brian's accuser (brought to life by a terrific Xosha Roquemore), any puzzle pieces remaining begin to fall into place. (That's Sherri Shepherd, below, right, equally caring and commanding as Banks' mother)

If you are familiar with the story of Brian Banks, the movie should bring it all to fine life. If you're not, I suspect you'll be even more transfixed. From Bleecker Street and running just 99 minutes, the film opens nationwide this Friday, August 9. Here in South Florida, you can find it in the Miami area at a number of Regal Cinemas, at AMC's Sunset Place 24, Hialeah 12 and Aventura Mall 24 and at the Flagship Cinemas 14, Homestead; in Broward County at AMC's Pompano Beach 18 and the Cinemark Paradise 24 in Davie; and in Palm Beach County at the Cinemark Boynton Beach 14 and Cinemark Palace, Boca Raton. Wherever you live across the country, click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

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