Brian Banks Reminds Us That The System Is Broken

Aldis Hodge (left) as Brian Banks and Greg Kinnear (right) as Justin Brooks in Tom Shadyac’s BRIAN BANKS, a Bleecker Street release. Credit: Katherine Bomboy/Bleecker Street.

Brian Banks tells the incredible true story of a football player who fought for his innocence while reminding us that the system is broken.

After the opening scene, the film flashes back to two years prior when Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge) starts down the road to freedom.  It isn’t an easy road but it would be hard fought thanks to Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear) and the California Innocence Project.  Banks’ life was wrongly charged with kidnapping and rape when he was in high school.  He knew he was innocent.  However, he felt forced into making a plea of no contest because of awful advice from his defense attorney.  When you learn his story, you cannot help but feel sad for him.  It takes some persistence from Banks but eventually, Justin signs onto his case.  Granted, the office would have had a mutiny if he didn’t do so.

When Brian lost football, he lost everything.  Prison would have killed him if not for Jerome Johnson (Morgan Freeman).  After getting out of prison and being placed on parole, he plays college football again.  This ends when parolees are required to abide by new rules: nobody can be 2000 feet away from a park or school.  As such, Brian ends up losing football again.  So much for playing football as linebacker at Long Beach City College. Brian can never walk onto campus again.  Dreams crushed.

No football means having to apply for jobs for some sort of income.  Brian meets personal trainer Karina (Melanie Liburd) while trying to get employed at a gym.  When he tells her his backstory, she could have left at any moment.  She didn’t.  In an interesting turn of events, she ends up opening up to Brian about her own dreams of being an artist.

After reaching out to Brooks, Brian decides to file a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus.  If the Writ had been approved, the film would be over and we’d all go home.  The thing is, Brian needs to have everything worked out by the time his probation comes to an end.  If not, he would be a permanent sex offender for the rest of his life.  He doesn’t want this and the CIP people know that time is of the essence.  Something earth-shattering is the only thing that can change Brian’s predicament.

The earth-shattering moment eventually happens when Kennisha (Xosha Roquemore) sends Brian a friend request on Facebook.  Brian does the thing here that no reasonable lawyer would advise.  To his credit, this works but only to an extent.  Things eventually resolve itself but not without that added stress and anxiety.  Though it should be said that the film does neither favors by having the two actors play their characters in high school.

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll (Matt Battaglia) recruited Banks to play for USC.  With everything that transpired, Banks would never play college ball for Carroll.  Carroll would reach out to him after learning of his freedom.  The Seahawks coach takes on more than just a simple cameo.

When you see one film about somebody fighting for their freedom, you’ve seen them all.  What helps Brian Banks is the chemistry between Hodge and Kinnear and the duo put on a show.  Without that chemistry, the film certainly would not work.  While it’s true that the film is certainly uplifting, there’s really no difference between watching this play out on a big or small screen.  This is one of the questions that I keep coming back to during this era of going to the movies.  Is this truly worthy of seeing it on the biggest screen possible?  Or is it a film that you can see yourselves watching on television at home during the weekend.  At the same time, we can’t help but appreciate that Brian never gave up on his innocence.

DIRECTOR:  Tom Shadyac
SCREENWRITER:  Doug Atchison
CAST:  Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd, and Xosha Roquemore

Bleecker Street opens Brian Banks in theaters on August 9, 2019. Grade: 3/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.