The American dream is often complicated…
Revolutionary businessmen Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) and Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) devise an audacious and risky plan to take on the racist establishment of the 1960s by helping other African Americans pursue the American dream. Along with Garrett’s wife Eunice (Nia Long), they train a working class white man, Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), to pose as the rich and privileged face of their burgeoning real estate and banking empire – while Garrett and Morris pose as a janitor and a chauffeur. Their success ultimately draws the attention of the federal government, which threatens everything the four have built.
The Banker isn’t flashy but it’s a very solid with great performances from Anthony Mackie (who also served as Executive Producer) and Samuel L Jackson recounting a true story of hard it was and still is to get ahead in America.
Director George Nolfi is a decent enough storytelling hand as it all plays well and some genuine flow about it with some solid production design crafting a fairly accurate feel for American in the 1960’s. The script that Nolfi co-wrote with writers Stan Younger, David Lewis Smith and Niceole R Levy admittedly plays it a little too safe as the narrative hits all the right points in this untold story of the civil rights movement in American but it does it somewhat of a rote fashion. The character development outside of Mackie and Jackson’s characters was a little underwhelming and while we felt the fight against racism at the time was salient and present, it also lacked a fair bit of emotion as well. The entire things was functionally interesting but lacked the emotional depth in the characters to make us more engaged, and while we can appreciate the effort to not use any clumsy storytelling tropes to sell the racial divide in America at the time, it could have used a broad moment or two to really sell the gravity of what Garrett and Morris were trying to do but thankfully this film has some charismatic leads who allowed us some emotional investment even when the script wasn’t giving it to us.
It’s no surprise that Mackie is a producer on this as he really managed to pour himself into a character like Bernard Garrett who didn’t necessarily succeed because of emotion but because of logic and understanding the math behind it all. It’s a carefully measured performance as we see his character evolve from logical businessman to social crusader. Mackie earns every step of it in a great performance.
Samuel L Jackson is his usual vivacious self opposite Mackie as the flamboyant Joe Morris, and while it was the easier role to play being the sage yet eccentric partner to Mackie’s Garrett be brings an entertainment value to it all which can’t be understated as they balance each other perfectly carrying the bulk of the narrative.
Unfortunately Nicholas Hoult as the ‘white’ face of their business who was in over his head just doesn’t have a ton to work with alongside Nia Long as the long suffering yet ferociously loyal wife to Mackie’s Garrett.
To put it simply, The Banker is decent investment of your time and worth at least looking at signing up for the Apple TV+ service during these times of self isolation and lockdown as we all have more available screen time then we know what to do with but this true story could have used a little more emotion in order to be something truly memorable.