Brain Banks‘ story is a familiar and a tragic one that has gotten a lot of attention over the years. Now it’s being told in a major feature directed by Tom Shadyac. Tom Shadyac took on this independent project as director after a significant hiatus after a bicycle accident nearly took his life in 2007. Some of his better known projects are with Jim Carry and Eddie Murphy like: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, and Bruce Almighty. He has taken on this new project with a more positive purpose with a more serious intent.
Aldis Hodge plays Brian Banks’ character, a young man who had a verbal agreement with USC and his sights set on the NFL, is falsely accused of rape in High School and all of his dreams crumble before his eyes. The aftermath of this accusation ends his aspirations of professional football, and everything comes to a grinding halt. He spends a decade in prison followed by probation as a sex offender. It’s a nightmare situation he doggedly persists in trying to resolve after years institutional living and a carefully monitored probation that hamstrings his ability to work or have a social life.
Justin Brooks of the California Innocence Project is played by Greg Kinnear. Justin is Brian’s last and only hope for setting the record straight and getting his life back on track. The story revolves around this binary relationship that sets the stage for Brian’s exoneration and freedom.
The cinematography is stunning and the narrative clear and concise. It’s immediately clear this isn’t your typical indie because of the high production values. But putting that aside, it was the clarity and singularity the story that grabs you. Brian’s character development makes an immediate impression on the viewer. “Brian Banks” opens the story when the football player was a child, showing his deep love of football and what that meant to him. It really makes the viewer care, because his character is vibrant and engaging. The movie also involves you in Brian’s life as an ex-con on probation, but seeds every one of the advancements of the narrative with more back story and more examples of his humanity. so you more clearly understand Brian’s evolution and motivation as a character.
We pick up on Brian’s story a short while after his release from prison. There are a number of situations portrayed at the beginning that informs the tenuous situation he lives under, sorting out how to live and work under probation, monitored by an ankle bracelet. Watching the story roll out, you really get into his head and you discover how passionate, intelligent and resourceful he is.
By the time we become aware of the California Innocence Project, he has already interacted with the agency a couple of times from prison. With each successive wave of determination Brian more successfully engages Justin Brooks about his innocence. Brian’s resourcefulness and courage are staggering and speaks so boldly of who he is as a person. The decisive moment comes when he is able to coax a confession on video tape from Kennisha Rice, played by Xosha Roquemore. This is the moment of truth that leads to Justin taking up his case. From this moment on, the drama escalates with a courtroom drama that opens up the opportunity for a retrial. Tom Shadyac’s direction is really effective in conveying the stress and elation in that moment where everyone pulls for Brian’s eventual exoneration and return to society as a free man ready to live his dream.
“Brian Banks” is a complicated and layered story negotiating its way between heartbreak, despair, victories and the absolute convection that the human spirit can triumph against great odds. It’s a movie that is as moving as it is uplifting and demonstrates we can all accomplish anything if we set our minds to if our heart’s in the right place.