The Banker

 

            It would be humorous if it weren't so painfully accurate. And yes, it's based on a true story.

            Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) begins his life as a shoe shine boy in Willis, Texas.  But this is one smart kid.  Overhearing the conversations of the businessmen while he's shining their shoes, he quickly understands how business is really done.  He's particularly interested in real estate, and has mastered the math to figure out whether an investment would be a profitable one.  But he finds himself stymied by racist attitudes in his hometown.  Nobody will loan him any money, even for a solid busines deal.  So he decides to move to California, where he hopes the attitudes are different.

            They are, but not by much.  He does run into a very sucessful black businessman, Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson).  The two men seem to be an unlikely pairing.  Bernard is outwardly calm, rational, intelligent, and well, maybe a little uptight.  Joe is rowdy, bawdy, and fun-loving.  He drinks constantly, smokes incessantly, laughs uproarously, and enjoys the company of beautiful young women.  Bernard is a one-woman man:  he genuinely loves his wife, Eunice (Nia Long), and she is devoted to him, and that strong relationship will help both of them to flourish.

            Bernard finally finds a business partner in Patrick Barker (Colm Meaney), a straight-talking Irishman who's experienced his own share of discrimination.  He agrees not only to be a 50/50 partner with Bernard financially, but also to be the “front man” of the negotiations, which are, inevitably, with other white men.  Meanwhile, Bernard gets to know Joe better, and decides that beneath all that blustery exterior is a man who has great intuition, both about people and investments.  Soon, Bernard and Joe are enjoying a very profitable partnership, which Patrick is more than willing to facilitate, and together they amass a fortune in 1960's Los Angeles real estate, including a large downtown building that houses 12 banks.

            The first wrinkle comes when Patrick suddenly dies, leaving the two black men without a white man to front for them.  So, they take on Bernard's handyman, Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), and in an ironic reverse Pygmalion scenario, they teach him (with Eunice's help in table manners) to act like a man of means, including being able to play golf.  The good news is that Matt grasps enough of the mathematics to sound knowledgeable, then he simply memorizes the rest.  He's also a good athlete, and learns to play good golf in a month (there are plenty of duffers out there wanting some of that action).  The ruse works perfectly, until the next wrinkle, which is that Bernard suddenly wants to go back home to Willis, Texas, to show them he can be a success there.

            Joe is against the idea, but he reluctantly goes along, and so does Matt.  But banking is different from real estate, and Texas is different from California.  They run into obstacles they hadn't foreseen.  And before they know it, they're all in hot water with the authorities, all of whom have their own agendas.

            There's plenty of solid acting to go around, but not surprisinly, Samuel L. Jackson steals the show.  Of course, we'd all like to think we've made a lot of progress since the 1960's in providing truly equal economic opportunity.  But if you really believe that, I have this property I'd like to show you...

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association