Movie Review – Brian Banks
This month, Quintez Cephus was acquitted of sexual assault charges. Cephus was a football player, a wide receiver for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A recent article documented how Cephus, who was expelled from that school, is pushing for readmission. Twenty years ago, Nate Parker was acquitted of rape. Parker was a wrestler at Penn State University but was suspended after he was charged in 1999. He was reinstated to the team in 2000. Therefore, there’s hope that Cephus could also be reinstated. However, in 2016, before Parker released his debut as a filmmaker, the case against him was rehashed in the media with some questioning his innocence. Some say the media coverage hindered the success of his film. All this preceded what’s now referred to as the Me Too Movement, which has changed the perception of sexual harassment, sexual assault and even rape charges in this country.
Last year, an article in The Washington Post laid out some very important statistics. Based on information from the U.S. Department of Justice, only 31-percent of rape incidents are reported to police. Less than 6-percent lead to arrests. Less than 2-percent lead to prosecution. And less than 1-percent lead to felony convictions. This is to say that Cephus and Parker’s cases are more the norm. Most men accused of rape are technically cleared or don’t get convicted. This is putting into context that a lot of accusations aren’t violent attacks. They’re more drunken encounters that often come down to he said, she said. Also, last year, an article by the BBC acknowledged that only 2 to 10-percent of rape accusations are proven to be false. This could be interpreted in several ways, but generally it means that women don’t see justice.
There is another element to consider, though. Cephus and Parker are both young African-American males. The history of this country has included many African-American males being accused of rape and either not getting due process or simply being railroaded. Probably the most famous cases were the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama, which led to the landmark Supreme Court case Powell v. Alabama (1932), and the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955. Another famous example is the Central Park Five in 1989, the subjects of which were made into an Emmy-nominated series called When They See Us this year.
It’s difficult not to think about that series, if you’ve seen it, while watching this film. This film’s director, Tom Shadyac doesn’t craft as visually compelling a cinematic experience as Ava DuVernay did for When They See Us. DuVernay had longer time though to develop the characters and immerse us in the characters’ experiences, but time isn’t the only factor. The camerawork and acting here aren’t as up to the level of DuVernay’s excellent piece.
Aldis Hodge (Hidden Figures and Straight Outta Compton) stars as Brian Banks, a 27-year-old man who is living at home with his single mother in Long Beach in the year 2011. He’s trying to find employment but he’s having trouble doing so because he’s a registered sex offender, having been convicted of rape back in 2002. He spent six years in prison and the past three years or so on probation. He now has an ankle monitor that restricts him from going near schools or parks, which further hinders his ability to get a job. This film follows the year in his life that he petitions the Innocence Project in California to help overturn his conviction.
Hodge’s performance is actually really good. A speech toward the end where he makes a passionate plea for help and for his innocence, as well as for the injustice he’s experiencing, is very powerful. Hodge is very affecting in that moment. Sherri Shepherd (The View and Trial & Error) plays Brian’s mother. She’s given one scene to be the concerned and dedicated mother and she’s good in that scene. Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine and As Good As It Gets) plays Justin Brooks, the head of the California Innocence Project. Kinnear is his typical smooth and charming self. It’s not much of an acting stretch for him.
Xosha Roquemore (The Mindy Project) plays Kennisha, the girl who accuses Brian of rape. I’m not sure what exactly the film wants us to think about her. Her performance feels more like a caricature than a fully-fleshed person. There seems to be a sympathetic aspect to her, given her apparent relationship with her very domineering mother. However, it’s not as sympathetic as the young woman in the Oscar-winning If Beale Street Could Talk (2018).
It’s difficult to compare this film to something like When They See Us or Marshall (2017) or even To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) because the racial aspect isn’t present. Comparing it to something like If Beale Street Could Talk might be more appropriate. Yet, that film was more a love story, whereas this one is about the struggle in the wake of an injustice to right the wrong and the legal hurdles to be overcome, mostly through the appeal of people’s humanity rather than the procedures at hand.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.