Even though The Banker stars A-list actors, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nicholas Hoult, this film about African American bankers in the 1960’s is just not on the money. This made for TV original production seems to fit more for the small screen than as a theatrical presentation.
George Nolfi directs, based on real people who worked the racist rigged system to their advantage to build a real estate empire in Los Angeles. Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) was brilliant with numbers who fled his racist, rural Texas hometown to find his fortune managing and owning real estate in LA. But he came up against White male bankers who didn’t want to deal with a Black man, no matter how smart he was.
Garrett’s smart, supportive wife, Eunice, (Nia Long, NCIS: Los Angeles, Empire, Dear White People) takes him to meet her old employer, night club owner, Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) who is a wheeler dealer in his own right. They strike up a partnership. Morris shows Garrett the ropes. Samuel L. Jackson is fun, close to playing himself, but less over-the-top and more controlled at times. He doesn’t even swear much in this film. The two men work together building and renovating buildings, trying to give African American families opportunities to live in better neighborhoods and integrate them. This was unheard of at the time.
When their efforts to work with White bankers met resistance, they put the very White, very green, Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) as their front man and train him how to do business in a White man’s world. They amassed a huge portfolio. The most entertaining series of scenes in this film are those where Jackson and Mackie show this kid the tricks of the trade, particularly on the golf course. Hoult plays innocent really well.
One problem is that the dialogue is stilted, and the pace is too slow. Perhaps with Niceole Levy, George Nolfi, David Lewis Smith and Stan Younger, there were just too many writers in the mix. (And Lewis and Younger came up with the story with Brad Kane). Plus, it gets so technical in scenes where all the dialogue consists of plotting out complex mathematical formulas and using obscure monetary terminology. It’s enough to make your head swim.
Unfortunately, we found Mackie’s performance stiff and emotionless. Maybe playing a Black man in rural Texas in the 50’s, Director Nolfi stifled Morris having to keep the lid on. Mackie rarely shows emotion, but does in his scenes with Nia Long who plays his wife. She is excellent in the role, able to get through to him and draw the character out. You have to wait till the end of the film to see more from him.
The bankers seem to be on a roll when Garrett hatches his plan to go back to his home town in rural Texas and buy the town bank. His dream is to loan money to African American families so they could own homes and businesses, but do so through his White front man so the racists wouldn’t know who was really pulling the strings. The plan goes South when Garrett and Morris get found out. Hoult as the puppet for these guys is in over his head.
The good part of the movie is the interaction and development of the friendship between Mackie and Jackson as partners. Jackson is most likable, even more so than Mackie who is such a good actor, but he seems so stiff and his scenes seem to fall flat in this film.
Like most movies, based on true stories, you’ll get to see black and white photos of the real Garrett, Morris, Stein and Eunice and what became of them. This is a story of racism that is relevant and needs to be told, with great talent. But when you add it all up, we don’t this one is very bankable.
Apple TV+ 2 hours PG-13 Streaming now.
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