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Trying To Avoid The Ultimate Sack: Brian Banks

Updated on September 2, 2019
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Synopsis

In a prison classroom, a bored and skeptical teenager listens as his teacher attempts to show him and other inmates a different perspective to their incarceration. The teacher takes note of his pupil and gives him a book that turns out to be helpful. The story of this prisoner is the subject of the movie Brian Banks. In 2002, Brian (Aldis Hodge) was a star linebacker on his Long Beach high school football team who has been offered a full ride scholarship to USC. That changes when he is arrested and charged with rape by a fellow student. That student, Kennisha Rice (Xosha Roquemore) tells a classmate what actually happened, but she and Kennisha's mother encourage her to exaggerate things. Under his counsel's advice and despite no DNA evidence, Brian accepts a plea deal that gets him a six year prison sentence, followed by five years probation. After his release, Brian enters community college and resumes his gridiron career. Following a game, however, Brian gets a call from his probation officer, who needs to see him and other convicted sex offenders regarding a rule change. As a result, Brian can no longer attend school - or even be within 2000 feet of a school or park. He also must wear an electronic monitor at all times.

This change means that Brian has to live at home with his mother, Leomia (Sherri Shepherd), where he starts the fight to clear his name. After the courts reject his writ of habeus corpus, Brian comes across the name of Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear), who runs the California Innocence Project. Brooks wants to help, but he advises Banks that he needs extraordinary evidence to have any chance of getting court attention. Banks's inquiries get the attention of fellow CIP lawyer Alissa Bjerkhoel (Tiffany Dupont), who gets permission to look into the matter. As this happens, Banks tries unsuccessfully to get a job, but one search at a gym introduces Brian to Karina (Melanie Liburd), a fitness teacher with a past that suggests danger for both. While he's on his computer, Brian gets a Facebook friend request from Kennisha. He instead responds with a request for a meeting. That meeting leads to a recorded confession from the woman that no rape happened. Though inadmissible in court, Brooks finds some facts he thinks he can use to clear Brian's name, provided the DA's office will listen.

Evaluation

Brian Banks, which is based on a real ordeal, is an interesting look at a busy legal system. The drama is good as Banks fights the system as hard as he can. Restrictions not only keep Brian from getting meaningful employment, but they prevent him from pursuing his dream of playing professional football. The film never offers suggestions about fixing a clearly broken legal system, but it does make clear that Banks enjoys better fortune than most in his position. Director Tom Shadyac is best known for comedies such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar, but he effectively presents a typical drama here about a man with the odds against him. The script comes from Doug Atchison, whose previous film credit came in 2006, when he wrote and directed the uplifting Akeelah And The Bee. This film is not as good as Akeelah, but the story kept me engaged about its title person.

The movie benefits the most from its lead actors. Hodge delivers an impassioned performance as Banks, who fights to clear his name before his probation comes to an end, and his sex offender status cannot be changed. Brian's frustration reaches a peak every time his probation officer calls and tells him he must leave an area. Even though he's no longer behind bars, he still feels as though he is there. Kinnear is solid as Brooks, who makes Banks the first person he represents who no longer lives in a cell. Justin shares with Brian the tale of his first CIP client, who received a plea deal sentence far worse than the one that put Brian in jail. Morgan Freeman also delivers a fine (and uncredited) performance as Jerome Johnson, the prison instructor who cared enough to make sure that his pupil didn't give in to despair.

Conclusion

Since Brian Banks lost so much time to prison and probation, nobody can say for sure how far he would have gone in the NFL. Had he been able to pursue his gridiron dreams with the success he and others expected, he would, at this time, either have completed a Hall Of Fame career, or be writing the final chapters of it. On the other hand, he might have been an ordinary pro, or one who would have battled injury or ineffectiveness. Brian Banks tells the tale of a man who fought to overturn an undeserved verdict. Just like any team tryout, Banks had to prove himself in the eyes of those who will decide the next phase of his life. The movie makes the problems with the law understandable, and shows the dedication of a legal team who works with an equally dedicated young man to improve his chances for his future.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Brian Banks three stars. A long road to a comeback.

Brian Banks trailer

© 2019 Pat Mills

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