Review: Conventional 'The Banker' elevated by true story narrative
Courtesy of Apple TV+
In “The Banker” - the long delayed drama that at one point was pegged for an Oscar run in December - Anthony Mackie is real-life entrepreneur Bernard Garrett, who spent his early childhood shining shoes trying to make a quick buck on the streets in 1930s Texas, and was privy to business tycoons in depth and number specific negotiations, which opened the doors for his admiration to the real estate business and calculations as a whole. Cut to the 1950s, Garret has moved to Los Angeles and he’s making a name for himself buying any property he can get his hands on, despite being upended at nearly every corner by racist laws and lending policies.
That’s the driving power in “The Banker'' - the fuel to achieve the American dream even though the cards and the systematic oppression's are stacked against African Americans ten fold. Garret, though, is a problem solver and is determined to join forces with a nightclub owner named Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) and work together in order to beat the system. With the aid of a white scapegoat (Nicholas Hoult) to do all their bidding (because nobody in the 1950s would sell their real estate to two black men), Morris and Garret would eventually grow their empire to well over 175 buildings, and become two of the wealthiest African Americans in the world.
Directed by Geroge Nolfi (“The Adjustment Bureau”), “The Banker” is a conventional, though well-intentioned drama, manufactured for maximum crowd-pleasing efficiency. It’s highly unlikely that anyone in the audience will believe (or understand) what Mackie is selling - though it’s terrific seeing the star get his due on the big screen - as his explanations of market cap rates and loan to value disclosures left me a little winded. Cheesy dialogue and convenient plot devices don’t help elevate the “inspire by a true story” pitch that is tailor made for Academy voters and you could see why, in the post “Green Book” world, Nolfi and company initially wanted to make that push.
They must have saw the writing on the wall, because even though the films commercial prospects were hindered because of some testy sexual assault allegations against the characters in the film, “The Banker” still doesn’t have that spark of energy to make it leap off the screen. But I suppose you can’t knock the true story nature of “The Banker “ because it is somewhat compelling. Considering Garrett and Morris were influential in Congress signing the Fair Trade Lending Act of 1968 into law thus making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, or color, the two deserve credit for their achievements, though you wish it wasn’t wrapped in such a nice tidy package with a bow on-top.
Considering most of this film takes place in the 1960s South when Jim Crow laws and racial tensions ran amuck, it would have been in the films benefit to explore those ideals more, except “The Banker” more or less tiptoes around those issues, and maybe that’s for the best. Still, the film is a fascinating little slice of civil rights history, played out in the business world rather than hustling on the streets. It’s not essential viewing in the same way “Hidden Figures” and “The Help” are, but those who invest with their dollars should see a modest and healthy return.
The Banker opens exclusively in select Emagine theaters in Detroit (check local listings) on Friday March 6th and will stream on Apple TV+ starting March 20th.