“BRIAN BANKS”: Freedom

“BRIAN BANKS” My rating: B 
99 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Published August 8, 2019 by Robert W. Butler at Butler’s Cinema Scene


With “Brian Banks” a familiar story is told in unfamiliar fashion.

Tom Shadyak’s drama follows the true-life saga of Brian Banks, a promising football star who at age 16 was accused of rape, plead no contest to avoid a long prison sentence, and nevertheless spent six years behind bars before being released into a parole system which — because he was now a convicted sex offender — was its own sort of hellish imprisonment.

Most movies would approach the subject chronologically. Doug Atchison’s screenplay cleverly starts in the middle with Banks (Aldis Hodge) already on parole. His history, though, means he cannot find anyone willing to employ him.  Just as bad, a new California law requires him and all sex offenders to wear an ankle monitor and remain within their neighborhoods…meaning he must give up  his place on a local college football team.

We cringe to see the humiliations Brian is subjected to. On the bright side are a handful of individuals upon whom he depends, like his ever-faithful mother (Sherri Shepherd), his new girlfriend (Melanie Liburd) and a prison mentor (an uncredited Morgan Freeman, seen only in flashbacks) who saves his life by emphasizing the need for a mental overhaul if you’re going to survive behind bars.

Somewhat less sympathetic is his by-the-rulebook parole officer (Dorian Missick).

And then Brian gets wind of the California Innocence Project, the brainchild of law professor Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear), who with a staff of unpaid law students seeks to free the unjustly imprisoned.

What follows is a sort of legal thriller.  At first Brooks isn’t interested in Brian’s case.  After all, his emphasis is on people still behind bars.

But Brian is insistent, and his righteous fervor sucks in the Innocence Project staffers, who spend years trying to pick apart the inconsistencies in the state’s case.

This leads up to a face-to-face with Brian’s accuser.  In what must be the most thankless role in movies this year (everyone is going to hate her character), Xosha Roquemore delivers a really strong performance as the woman who as a 15-year-old accused a classmate of a heinous crime and forever changed his life.

Nothing in director Shadyak’s resume (“Ace Ventura,” “Bruce Almighty,” “Liar Liar,” “Patch Adams,” “The Nutty Professor”) suggests an affinity for docudrama. But he plays things straight, with no show-offy visual flourishes, slowly building a full head of indignation and then letting all that pressure out with a whoosh of relief.

Best of all, he gets really strong performances out of his players.

| Robert W. Butler

Read the original review and more reviews at Butler’s Cinema Scene

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Robert W. Butler for 41 years reviewed films for the Kansas City Star. In May 2011 he was downsized.

He couldn’t take the hint.

OKAY, so here’s the deal. I write mostly about movies. One good thing about no longer writing for the paper is that I’m free to ignore the big dumb Hollywood turkeys that don’t interest me. So don’t expect every blessed release to be written about here. Many films aren’t worth the effort. Besides, at my age it’s not the $8. It’s the two hours.

UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2014: Well, here’s an interesting twist. The Star wants me back as a freelance film reviewer!!! Apparently enough time has passed that they cannot be accused of firing me so that they can rehire me at a fraction of my original pay (I gather the federal government frowns upon that practice.) So from now on I will probably be reviewing a movie a week for the newspaper.