Brian Banks (2019) Review

AN INSPIRATIONAL (YET STANDARD)

BIOPIC DRAMA


 

Nowadays, biopic drama movies have become all the rage, with many Hollywood studios fascinated with the framing work of these endeavors. While not breaking new cinematic ground, biopic movies showcase a person (or person) or a particular event that shaped to be something of value; be it tragedy, inspirational, or just simply a look into the private world of individuals that range from famous figures to unsung heroism from normal everyday folks that are caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Now, Bleecker Street and director Tom Shadyac present the latest bio pic drama with the film Brian Banks. Does this biographical feature film find its cinematic appeal between truth and entertainment or is it a run-of-the-mill gambit project that doesn’t pay off?

THE STORY


Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge) has a promising future, a long beach native and high school football linebacker with the potential to make a pro career in the NFL. However, everything changes, when Brian is falsely accused of sexual assault by another student, Kennisha Rice (Xosha Roquemore), in the summer of 2002. Despite having several pieces of evidence that proves his innocence, Brian is advised by his lawyer to take a plea deal and assured that it won’t involve jail time. Unfortunately, he ends up being sentenced to five years in prison and another five years of probation while registered as a sex offender, which causes him to lose his dream of playing football. Upon completing his time in prison, Brian, who is frustrated over the whole situation, reaches out to the California Innocence Project and its overseer, Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear), in the hopes that they will help overturn the charges against him and give him back his life.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Much like what I said mentioned in my review for Tolkien, I do enjoy a good biopic drama motion picture. While the subject matter of each one can be different ranging from famous historical leaders, to popular musicians, to sports stars, to inspirational stories of everyday people. While the acting talents involve can usually lead to the nominations during the award season (with some being quite memorable in their captivating performances), it’s usually the story (albeit sometimes dramatized) that has the most impactful motion by depicting a somewhat “hidden / unseen” truth to what’s being told; adding cinematic dramas within the context of its source material. Like I said, there are plenty of biopic movies out there (too many mention), with Hollywood not slowing down anytime soon and I for one am looking forward to all these types of movies; offering new stories to be heard (underneath a cinematic light) as well as the acting talents / directors that usually get attached to these projects.

Brian Banks is the latest feature film endeavor in this biopic arena of movies; depicting the poignant struggle that one person faces in his current situation of false accusation and a broken justice system. Of course, with a love of football (American football…to be exact), I do remember hearing a little bit about Brian Bank’s story a few years ago, but my memory is a bit hazy on some of the finer details of his account. Still, it was quite impactful (from what I can remember). I really didn’t hear much “buzz” about this movie of Brian’s life until I saw the film’s movie trailer a few times when I went to my local theater (you know…for my weekly theater outing). From what was shown, it looked like a good story, with a few recognizable stars (Kinnear and Freeman) to dot the feature. Again, I’m always interested in biopics, so I decided to see this movie in theaters and do a review for it. What did think of Brian Banks? Well, it’s okay. Despite palpable story of determination and fighting for the injustice truth and some good acting, Brian Banks comes up as both undeveloped and standard biopic. The movie’s heart is in the right place, but never strives to be memorable.

Brian Banks is directed by Tom Shadyac, whose previous directorial background includes several late 90s / early 00s comedy hits such as The Nutty Professor, Liar, Liar, and Bruce Almighty. With his last project (a 2010 documentary film titled I Am), Shadyac, after a nine-year hiatus, returns to directing feature length motion pictures; trying his hand at a more thematically dramatic story that deals with a weighed subject matters like falsely rape accusation, wrongfully imprisoned, a fracture injustice system, and one man’s journey to be exonerated….in order to live his dream by playing pro-football. There’s a lot to take in, but Shadyac does a good job in laying all of this out in Brian Banks; shaping the narrative in way that’s clear and precise and moves at a swift pace; making the movie’s length to be streamlined with no added bloated excess.

Rather than a strict linear narrative from start to finish, Shadyac (as well as screenplay writer Doug Atchison) begin the movie with Brian after his prison sentence, while he’s on his probation period, and how he’s struggling to adjust to his new terms of his probation, including wearing an monitored ankle bracelet and the difficulty to finding a job (as a registered sex offender). This, of course, means that a lot of the bulk of the main plot of the narrative is told via flashback, with the character of Brain (usually) recanting his misfortunate plight. What the movie does do a good job is showcasing of flawed the US justice system is and how much it is a really problem area that needs to be fixed, but no one has an answer to fix it. It’s thematic socially commentary message that does speak volumes and its clear from Brian Banks’s story (both in the film and in the real-life events) needs to be addressed.

Technical presentation-wise, Brian Banks meets the standard level of what a viewer would expect from a biopic of this caliber. I’m not saying that the movie looks terrible or anything like that, but nothing really stands out. That being said, a feature like this doesn’t need the super imposed artistic flourishes from high cinematic filmmaking. So, all the categories, including production designs, set decorations, costumes, cinematography, and even the film score (done by John Debney) meets the industry standards of current movie releases (of this nature). So, it kind of breaks even….not super awesome, but neither super terrible.

The real main problem with Brian Banks is in the somewhat heavy-handiness of its narration and how the movie is presented the story being told. While I do praise the feature for framing Bank’s life in the way it does, the script handling of it all feels a bit undercooked at times and spoon fed at others. No one can ever doubt that what befell Brian was horrible (and how the justice system is broken), but the movie doesn’t really quite show that meaning; utilizing a ton of voiceover and / or heavy expositional scenes to lay out the Brian’s plight. It’s a tactic that’s not unnecessarily a bad thing, but most of the story is “spoon fed” and is really not much “depth” beyond what’s already been said, discuss, and documented in Brian Banks’s case. Basically, if you know the story (followed it as it developed) or simply Wikipedia it, the movie doesn’t add much to it narrative than just presenting Brian’s struggle in a cinematic platform.

While Brian’s story is definitely intriguing and offers up an inspirational tale, the movie itself needs more cinematic bite to it than what’s presented. Because of this, the film feels like a TV movie; never trulying rising to the challenge of cinematic storytelling and feeling a bit formulaic / predictably throughout. Additionally, there are several scenes (scattered throughout) that feel a little bit “unreal”. I do understand that the real story might not have been “cinematically” imagined, but its pretty obvious a few scenes / scenarios that were fabricated (or stretched) to fit into a motion picture endeavor. Again, it’s not terrible, but it’s a glaring criticism.

While the movie’s presentation might be undeveloped, the main principle cast is effectively great, with actor Aldis Hodge giving a solid and favorable performance as the feature’s main title character of Brian Banks. Hodge, known for his roles in Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures, and City on a Hill, while not a household name in movies, does a terrific job in the role; projecting enough relatability, humanity, and raw emotional talents to make his portrayal of Brian wholesome and easy to root for throughout the movie. Likewise, actor Greg Kinnear (Heaven Is for Real and Little Miss Sunshine) is a comforting and stable reassurance in the large supporting role of Justin Brooks, the character who Brian seeks out to help him dismiss his case. Kinnear acts as the “veteran” actor of the film and certainly fits the bill as well as actor Morgan Freeman (Se7en and Invictus), who plays a vital role to Brian’s mentality transformation in prison (as a sort of mentor figure role). However, unlike Kinnear’s Brooks, Freeman’s character gets shortchanged and acts as mystified figure rather than a concrete pillar of Brian Bank’s motivation, which is kind of disappointing.

The rest of the cast is mixture of fairly good to mediocre. None of the acting is bad, but the characters and motivations for these supporting players comes off as a bit mechanical and / or subservient to the main plot; acting as obstacles / problematic challenges for the character Brian to face on his journey. This includes actresses Xosha Roquemore (The Mindy Project and I’m Dying Up Here) as Kennisha Rice (Brian’s accused victim) and Melanie Liburd (This is Us and Gypsy) as Karina (a woman who befriends Brian during his journey to redemption); both of which are well-placed, but feel undeveloped from the get-go.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The struggle and personal reflection of Brian Bank’s life gets a cinematic treatment with the movie Brian Banks. Director Tom Shadyac’s latest film finds its rhythm within its biopic nuances of recollecting a man’s journey to get back the life he lost and to rediscover what it means to find a person’s faith within such difficult times. While the intent is there within its wholesome and inspirational story of never giving up, which is accompanied by some fine acting, the movie itself never really rise to the challenges; lacking a necessary cinematic charge that the movie’s narrative like this needs. Personally, I thought this movie was somewhere between okay and mediocre. Yes, the acting was good and the story definitely needs to be told (especially with so much injustice of wrongfully accused happening throughout the nation), but movie just feels undeveloped and almost like a TV movie and not a motion picture. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “Rent It” as it’s doesn’t really warrant a glance in theaters, but good enough for a viewing (at least once) when it gets released later on. In the end, Brian Banks is definitely poignant and moving, but, with so many other riveting biopics out there currently, this one just feels like an adequate / standard biopic.

3.3 Out of 5 (Rent It)

 

Released On: August 9th, 2019
Reviewed On: August 18th, 2019

Brian Banks  is 99 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for thematic content and related images, and for language 

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