THE BANKER (2020)
Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Nicholas Hoult, Nia Long, Jessie T. Usher, Colm Meaney
Directed by George Nolfi
Apple TV+ jumps into Netflix and Amazon territory with its own lineup of original movies starting with “The Banker” starring Avengers’ Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson reuniting to play two different kinds of superheroes, African-American business men who built a real estate and banking empire during the racially turbulent 50s. Based on a true story that began just north of Houston, the film by “Ocean’s Twelve” scribe George Nolfi is fittingly reminiscent of a heist caper. Mackie and Jackson together with Nicholas Hoult are a terrific trio that entertains and educates with an inspirational story that’s been given the Hollywood treatment.
Apart from cowriting “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Nolfi cowrote and directed the underrated sci-fi thriller “The Adjustment Bureau” which also featured Anthony Mackie. The collaboration by the pair this time around gives Falcon more time to shine in the lead role as Bernard Garrett, a math whiz who grew up in the small town of Willis, Texas. Mackie remains pokerfaced throughout the film as his character breaks out of the Jim Crow South for the sunny hills of California which was also segregated.
Bernard lands in Los Angeles to try his hand at real estate, accompanied by wife Eunice (Nia Long). She introduces him to an old friend, flamboyant nightclub owner Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), who provides the majority of the film’s humor. We get to hear Jackson recite lines that include “Oh, I’m sorry did I not wake up black this morning?” using that delivery style that became iconic after appearing in “Pulp Fiction.”
At first, Bernard wants nothing to do with Joe who he considers a degenerate because of his nightclub lifestyle which includes a bevy of beauties by his side, alcohol, tobacco, and a boisterous persona that doesn’t mind flirting with Eunice. Joe’s got connections and cash but Bernard’s strait-laced personality clashes with his wife’s former acquaintance.
Colm Meany is cast as a real estate tycoon Patrick Barker, the first white person in L.A. to give Bernard a break after bankers and sellers refuse to work with him. Patrick recognizes Bernard's talent with numbers and real estate, and he loves the ambitious entrepreneur’s tenacity, so the two form a partnership (off the record) where Patrick becomes the face of the company and Bernard the brains.
“The Banker” moves from drama to comedy as the film explores the eventual partnership between Bernard and Joe with Jackson injecting a healthy dose of humor into the story. The two begin purchasing real estate in L.A. including the tallest building in the city that houses a bank that refused Bernard a loan, I think you know where this is going. But Bernard and Joe being as smart as they are, and successful businessmen is still not enough during this racially turbulent era to allow them to be able to purchase any property, so they hire and train young Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) to be the white face of the company.
The performances by the cast make the film entertaining while the amount of racial injustice is enough to dampen the mood and remind the audience that we’re dealing with a story inspired by true events during a time period where African Americans were seen as second-class citizens. Think of 2018’s Oscar-winning film “Green Book” as an example of the experience you’ll get from watching “The Banker.”
(3 ½ stars)
Now streaming on Apple TV+