Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Banker

The Banker
Directed by George Nolfi
Released March 6, 2020

The United States doesn’t have a great record on tolerance in its two-plus centuries of existence. Slavery was a big part of its roots, and even after certain legal victories over institutional racism, discrimination remains rampant in so many places and professions. There are those who see racism at play and choose to confront it head-on, challenging it through subversive methods designed not only to achieve their true aims but also to show those who would dare hold them back that they’re not nearly as smart as think they are.

Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) grows up in Texas shining the shoes of rich white men and taking notes on the conversations he overhears so that he can understand how to make solid investments. As an adult in Los Angeles, Bernard tries to get into the real estate world, which he finds difficult given the color of his skin. An Irishman (Colm Meaney) who has himself been judged by his heritage is impressed by him, giving him a good shot at success, but Bernard has his sights set on something greater. With the help of his wife Eunice (Nia Long), a rich, eccentric businessman (Samuel L. Jackson), and a white colleague (Nicholas Hoult) who will handle all face-to-face interactions on behalf of the two black men fronting him, Bernard sets out to buy the building that houses the many banks that all refused to even consider giving him a loan.

This film is based on a true story, one that includes many unfortunate setbacks and upsetting looks at the true character of many Americans with far too much money and power, yet most of it is presented here as comedy. It’s probably most comparable to “The Help,” a film that also portrays those who understand how the system works and console themselves with that truth by finding ways to subtly and humorously demonstrate their intelligence and cunning by outsmarting those who attempt to suppress them. It’s undeniably entertaining, though the stakes and seriousness of the surrounding situation aren’t quite conveyed. That’s not the main purpose of this film, which itself is poking fun at the absurdity of its content.

Mackie has a high profile right now thanks to his role in “Avengers: Endgame,” all the films that led into it, and the upcoming “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” TV series. This is a solid role for him, but his prominence takes a backseat to his costars in nearly every scene. Long is strong, and Hoult shows his versatility with an eager part here that suits him well. The incomparable standout of the film is Jackson, who owns every moment he’s onscreen with a formidable and fantastically enjoyable turn. This film was originally slated for release in December before problematic events related to Bernard’s living children prompted Apple to delay it. While those should certainly be addressed, for this reviewer who screened the film way back in November, it is a fun caper film that works well with its lighthearted picture of relatively recent American history.

B+

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