When I first saw the trailers for this film, I was intrigued. I am not a huge football fan but I love a story about triumph over injustice. This film is all about hope in the face of despair and triumphs over tribulations. In addition to that deeply interesting story, the star of the film, Aldis Hodge is a powerful and dynamic actor. I was hoping for a good story and great performances. This film rises above even that expectation. The story is extraordinary, shining a light on injustices in the criminal system but never preaching. It is hopeful despite the troubles Brian Banks endures. The performances are deeply emotional, engaging, and compelling. This is a truly stellar story and movie.
Brian Banks directed by Tom Shadyac and written by Doug Atchison is based on the true story of Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge). In the film, we learn that Brian was on the rise as a football player when one fateful day, he meets fellow student Kennisha Rice (Xosha Roquemore) in the hall. The pair head to a secluded part of the school, Brian changes his mind after some kissing, and as Kennisha leaves, she’s confronted by a security guard. Flustered, she makes up a story about being raped. Brian is given bad advice by his lawyer, offered a plea bargain that sends him to jail, and a judge that gives him that time instead of parole, including having to register as a sex offender. Once he’s out of prison, Brian is unable to continue to play football, struggles to get jobs, and cannot be anywhere near schools or parks. There is a time limit on his ability to get back into football so he takes justice in his own hands and approaches the California Innocence Project and lawyer Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear). With the help of Justin, Brian tackles the California legal system. With his mother, Leomia (Sherri Shepherd) on his side, words of wisdom from Jerome Johnson, a counselor from prison (Morgan Freeman) and a friend, Karina (Melanie Liburd) as well as Justin Brooks’ entire team, Brian fights against all the odds to hold onto his dreams of playing football again.
With the movie’s focus on Brian and his struggles, there is a critical message in the film, that justice isn’t easy and we have to fight for the truth, even when it is difficult. While he doesn’t get back his time, he does get back his name. He succeeds in triumphing over his tragedies in the most important way, by choosing his response to life. His hopeful and persevering nature teaches that we can fight back against injustice, even if justice takes a miracle. The true story is amazing and triumphant. The film, driven by Aldis Hodge’s powerful performance, executes that story in that hopeful energy, that fights for the truth, and Brian Banks’s dedication is clear throughout the movie. Brian’s truth was that he went through a terrible ordeal, accused of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison as a young man. He could have remained in despair but he chose, with the help of people around him, to let go and find hope. Most audiences will empathize with that story and that truth.
The biggest reason that this film is so gripping, besides the incredible truth, is the performances. This film wouldn’t be as exceptional without Aldis Hodge. He is unbelievably dynamic, emotional, and his acting is weighted with a presence that carries the movie. His role is the main focus of the movie but he is the perfect choice to carry that role. Greg Kinnear is always a solid actor, able to blend charm and wit with a feeling of decency. Even as his character tells Brian he can’t help, Greg Kinnear’s eyes display a different story. And it is that ability to convey those emotions that belie his words that make him a great choice for Justin Brooks. Sherri Shepherd is loving and emotional as Brian’s mother. Xosha Roquemore as Kennisha, Brian’s accuser, is not shown in the best light but the actress displays the conflict in her character well and adds resonance to the movie. Melanie Liburd as Karina has her own voice and emotion that gives the film even more of a hopeful vibe.
Beyond the performances, what else works for me is how the story is written. The writer begins the story with Brian after he’s out of prison after he’s experienced the worst and has learned to control his choices and his responses to adversity. We see Brian as a man of dedication and strength. When the film reaches backward, it gives the film more weight and emotion as you’ve gotten to know Brian and have engaged with him. The use of flashbacks does not weigh down the film but instead informs the viewer, gives the viewer more insight into Brian’s story and his character as we get to know Brian’s story like others in the movie learn it.
If you are looking for an upbeat, positive story that shows one man’s fight for justice, to clear his name, and gives us insight into how badly the system can ruin a person’s life if there is no mercy, no willingness to listen to the truth, and no justice. If you like Aldis Hodge or are familiar with Brian Banks’ story, I think you will find this gripping, emotional and hopeful just as I did. The performances are strong and outstanding. But most of all, the story is extraordinary and is well worth viewing.
Rating: 5 out of 5 dreams