Brian Banks

 

            In the era of #MeToo, this is the other side of the narrative.

            Brian Banks (a bulked-up Aldis Hodge) grew up in Long Beach just loving football.  He was such a high school star that at age 16 , USC had already talked to him about a full ride scholarship.  And then his whole world came crashing down.  It was during a summer school session where he happened to meet a classmate, Kennisha Rice (Xosha Roquemore), in the lobby.  He followed her down a hallway past several classrooms, and then engaged in some heavy petting with her at the bottom of the stairs.  Yep, you guessed it.  Immediately it's a “he said, she said” situation.  She claims she was raped.  He claims they didn't even have sex.  The authorities believed her.

            Brian Banks is arrested and incarcerated.  His court-appointed attorney recommends a plea deal:  in exchange for dropping the sodomy and kidnapping charge, he'll plead “no contest” to the rape.  He was told he'd get probation.  But the Judge sentenced him to six years jail time.  At least at Juvenile Detention, he meets a sympathetic man who tries to help him with his “Why me?” rage, but soon he's transferred out of Juvy to the men's prison.  There, he witnesses a prisoner shiving another one, and to escape the intimidation tactics, he fights back.  He's charged with assault and put in solitary for two months.  And there, in between hallucinations, he has his epiphany:  the only thing he can change is his own attitude.

            When he's finally released, he's on a tight parole regimen, including wearing an ankle brace locator at all times, and also not venturing outside the county, or anywhere near a school or a park (he's had to register as a sex offender).  When he tries to find a job, he's turned down as soon as they find out he's a convicted felon.  Then he hears about the California Innocence Project, begun by Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear). No, his liberation is not immediate---it takes many fits and starts and legal manuevers, including an (inadmissable) admission from her that she fabricated the story. But Brian Banks finally receives what he's wanted for 11 years:  exoneration.

            Now he's free to chase his NFL dream, but of course he never played college ball, and he hasn't stepped on any kind of football field in 11 years.  He gets an invite from an old coach to training camp, but he doesn't make it.  Undeterred, he trains hard during the next year, and eventually he does make an NFL team: theAtlanta Falcons.  (Though they show clips of Banks making a couple of tackles in a preseason game, he was actually cut before the season started.)

            A few awkward questions:  if this is a true story, why did it win the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival for the Best Fiction Feature?  And why make up character named Kennisha Rice when the public record states that her name is Wanetta Gibson?  And why leave out the part that the Long Beach Unified School District is countersuing her for the punitive damages she won against them, in light of her recanting her accusation? And why is Morgan Freeman's name curiously absent from the film's publicity, when he plays the important role of the mentor at Juvy?  Perhaps because of recent sexual harrassment allegations against him, and the irony is too great?

            It's a curiously awkward film, but with heartfelt sentimentality.  This film probably won't get much traction right now, because it's on the unpopular side of the current cultural narrative.  Like Brian Banks' personal experience, his film will probably not receive a sympathetic public hearing for at least a decade.  And in the intervening years there will be many more competing narratives.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association