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“The Banker” Shines A Light On A Fascinating Story

The key to telling an historical drama, no matter what the subject matter is, often centers on the entertainment factor. Even if the story is deadly serious, if your audience is not having a good time, your ship is sunk. That doesn’t mean a Holocaust movie or a film about slavery needs to be fun, but there needs to be captivating actor, a narrative you invest in, and an overall feeling that what you’re watching isn’t homework. Luckily, The Banker checks off all of these boxes. The first foray into prestige cinema by Apple TV+ is a charming, as well as important, success story. Delayed from 2019 into 2020, it’s likely no longer an Academy Award hopeful, but it’s still a story well executed and well worth seeing.

The film is a drama, somewhat fictionalizing the true story of how two African American men secretly started a business empire in the 1960s. Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) is a determined entrepreneur. A business savant, Bernard has doors closed to him only because of the color of his skin. Bernard’s wife Eunice (Nia Long) puts him into contact with club owner Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), a man with money to spend. Together, they devise a plan to take on the racist establishment of the era by helping other African Americans pursue the American dream. To do this, they begin buying a number of real estate properties, and eventually a large bank. To do this, Bernard, Eunice, and Joe train a working class white man in Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) to pose as the face of their empire. Eventually, as they add more and more to their banking industry, Bernard and Joe Garrett pose as a janitor and a chauffeur, respectively, in order to run things behind the scenes. Eventually, their success draws the attention of the federal government, which doesn’t bode well for them. In the end, everything that the quartet has built will be threatened, unless they have a little more magic up their sleeves. George Nolfi directs, as well as co-writes with Niceole Levy, David Lewis Smith, and Stan Younger (with a story credit going to David Lewis Smith and Younger, as well Brad Caleb Kane). Rounding out the cast are the likes of Paul Ben-Victor, Taylor Black, Colm Meaney, Jessie T. Usher, and more. The music here is by H. Scott Salinas, while cinematography comes from Charlotte Bruus Christensen.

Getting to watch Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie in substantial material like this is a pleasure. Jackson leans into the gregarious nature of his character, while Mackie channels his intensity into what might be his best performance to date. Filmmaker George Nolfi gives them solid material to work with and the freedom to execute it in their particular styles. They each have strong chemistry with co-star Nicholas Hoult, which is essentially once we get past the first act. You come to know and like these individuals, with the same going for Nia Long, so as they seek to make their way in the business world and pull off their master plan, you actually do root for them to find success.

The Banker doesn’t need to be two hours long, that’s for sure. At the same time, Nolfi manages to allow the passage of time to be a factor in the story. This keeps the pacing from dragging the film down. In many ways, the midpoint of the movie acts as a moment where things could go in one of two directions. Luckily, Nolfi and company are able to keep the momentum going. Without that deft hand, things easily could have become a total slog and ruined all of the initial goodwill that was generated. Admittedly, the ending does leave something to be desired, but it’s not a huge issue. Jackson, Mackie, and Nolfi (and to a lesser extent, Hoult), make the characters so enjoyable to be around that you’re happy to spend the extra time.

Out now and available to watch, The Banker is quality cinema. The flick may not be an awards player anymore, having been pushed from its late 2019 release date into this first section of 2020, but it’s still well worth seeing. Put the thought of Oscar glory out of your mind and you’ll almost certainly enjoy what you find here…

Be sure to check out The Banker, in theaters today!

(Photos courtesy of Apple TV+)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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