[Screen It]


(2019) (Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear) (PG-13)

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Drama: A young man must contend with the continued fallout of having been falsely accused and sentenced for raping a girl a decade earlier as a teen, all while trying to clear his name in hopes of having one last chance to make it in the NFL
Brian Banks (ALDIS HODGE) is a 27-year-old man who's in the last year of his three-year parole period that's followed his six-year imprisonment for allegedly raping his then 15-year-old classmate, Kennisha Rice (XOSHA ROQUEMORE), at their school when he was sixteen. He claims they did nothing more than make out, but with bad advice from his public defender, he plead no contest to the charges and ended up imprisoned, breaking the heart of his single mom, Leomia (SHERRI SHEPHERD).

Beyond dashing his dreams of becoming an NFL player -- he was that promising back in high school -- he finds that he can't get a job due to his criminal record (including being registered as a sex offender) and the new requirement that he must wear a GPS ankle bracelet, thus meaning his parole officer knows where he is at any moment.

And when gym employee Karina Cooper (MELANIE LIBURD) hears Brian's story, she initially feels she must get away from him. Yet, and thanks to the wisdom imparted to him years earlier by his juvenile detention counselor, Jerome Johnson (MORGAN FREEMAN), Brian has the mindset to not let that completely get him down and thus knows he must clear his name.

He hopes that the California Innocence Project might be able to help, but unlike Alissa (TIFFANY DUPONT) and Marilyn (MYSTIE SMITH) who work there, that organization's director, Justin Brooks (GREG KINNEAR), doesn't think Brian stands a chance of having the judge's earlier ruling changed. And he realizes he must focus their limited resources on helping those still wrongly imprisoned rather than Brian who's now a free, if restricted man.

Despite that and additional moments where Justin turns him down, Brian perseveres, with eventual hopes that the director might be able to convince Deputy D.A. Mateo (JOSE MIGUEL VASQUEZ) to intervene on their behalf.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
There's a scene in one of my all-time favorite movies, "The Shawshank Redemption," where the protagonist played by Tim Robbins claims he's innocent. A veteran inmate (Morgan Freeman) sarcastically replies that the new guy is going to fit in as everyone there falls into the same category.

Yes, many a real-life prisoner would probably say the same thing, regardless of any evidence that proves otherwise beyond the shadow of a doubt. But time and again, there are innocent people who end up wrongly accused, convicted and imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit, and I can't think of much that would be as equally frustrating and infuriating.

Hollywood has long thought the same and thus there have been scores of movies over the decades about just that and attempts by such victims and/or those acting on their behalf to clear their name. And that's usually with some sort of looming deadline where it's too late afterward to reverse course or, sometimes, to save their lives if death row is involved.

While the alleged crime that fuels the story of "Brian Banks" doesn't involve the latter, there are a number of time-based deadlines in play in this well-made and solidly performed drama. It's based on the true story of the titular young man who was wrongly accused, as a teenager, of kidnapping and raping a teenage classmate at their school back in 2002.

He ended up going to prison for six years and was then on parole for another five, which is where the story -- penned by Doug Atchison -- begins. Aldis Hodge plays the title character who lives with his mom (Sherri Shepherd) and has come to the brutal realization that having been registered as a sex offender means he can't get a job and that his once-promising goal of playing in the NFL is now little more than a pipe dream, what with his record and the fact that he's now made his way past the quarter-century age mark.

He hopes that he might have a chance of clearing his name via the California Innocence Project, but its director (Greg Kinnear) tells him that since he pled no contest to the charges -- on the bad advice of his public defender -- it's highly unlikely the judge's initial ruling will be reversed.

That is, unless something remarkable is uncovered that's too hard to ignore. And that becomes the driving force for the rest of the plot that plays out in an engaging and intriguing, if fairly familiar fashion over the course of the film's nearly 100-minute runtime.

Hodge is quite good in the role, with the emotional arc believably ranging from big dramatic moments to more subdued and introspective ones where we come to know, understand and root for the character to succeed. Kinnear is solid playing the sort of supporting character part he often inhabits.

Director Tom Shadyac keeps things moving along at a good but unhurried clip and occasionally shows flashbacks not only to the pivotal past event, but also some of the then-teens' interactions with a wise juvenile detention center guidance counselor (played by, who else, Morgan Freeman with that lovely, profound voice).

Better than I predicted it would be -- based solely on treading in familiar storytelling waters -- "Brian Banks" might not be original, but it's an important tale to tell and one that's told well. It rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 2, 2018 / Posted August 9, 2018

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