African American entrepreneur challenges establishment in historical drama The Banker
by Bob Brown
Filmmakers who tackle themes of social inequality sometimes allow agendas to run roughshod over storytelling. Producer Anthony Mackie and director George Nolfi take a more engaging approach in The Banker, delivering a teachable moment about racial injustice while keeping drama front and center.
The film owes much of its watchability to an intriguing main character and top-notch performances from Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson. Strong language and a split focus are drawbacks.
The Banker is “inspired by true events” mainly from the 1950s and ’60s. Mackie plays Bernard Garrett, an African American math whiz and business mastermind. Thick-rimmed glasses and a plain gray suit belie a fervor to make money and create opportunities for black people.
Los Angeles is more open-minded than most places, but Garrett meets resistance from the city’s banking establishment when he buys properties in white neighborhoods and flips them—demographically—renting them to blacks. Joe Morris (Jackson), a wealthy black nightclub owner, helps Garrett bankroll his ventures. Larger-than-life baddie seems like an easy paycheck for Jackson. Still, he nails his turn as Garrett’s sidekick—part tutor, part tempter. Mackie shines as an ambitious yet strait-laced idealist.
The money rolls in after Garrett schools Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), a working-class white friend, in high finance and high society so he can be the trio’s public face. Garrett’s ability to click with a spectrum of personality types is fascinating. Steiner’s saga is essential to the narrative, but more than once it diverts the spotlight. For example, I felt the film lingers too long on Steiner’s arithmetic and golf lessons.
It’s Garrett’s dream to return to his small Southern hometown and replicate his success there. But Willis, Texas, is no Los Angeles. Morris sums up the situation.
“Two Negroes manage to buy two banks full of white folks’ money—in Texas—and loan it to other Negroes.” Garrett is defying the social order, a vexed senator warns. Politicians and rivals conspire to take Garrett down, and wealth and ego threaten to compromise the partnership as well.
The March release of The Banker, the first major original motion picture from Apple TV Plus, comes after a four-month delay. Originally scheduled for a November 2019 debut, the film met with controversy when the two real-life half-sisters of Garrett’s son, just a boy in the film, accused him of sexual abuse. The studio pulled the film, tweaked some details, and erased Bernard Garrett Jr.’s co-producer credits. (No harm in a few pixels of historical revisionism, right?) None of these details surfaces in the film. The objectionable content consists of smoking, drinking, and bad language.
Share this article with friends.
Showing, not telling
The Pilgrim’s Progress embodies timely lessons
by Megan Basham
Of all the at-home entertainment now available for cooped-up kids, Christian parents will welcome none as much as Revelation Media’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. The full-length movie is available for free at watchpilgrims.com.
Though faithful to John Bunyan’s 17th-century tale, the film makes a few concessions to modern tastes. It gives Apollyon’s designs to enslave humankind a gothic backstory and mines humor out of sometimes-clueless Christian’s interactions with characters.
More than a few moments delight with ingenuity, as when Christian goes to visit Mr. Legality in the village of Morality. The literal mountain man flings down chiseled tablets engraved with, as we might expect, demands for religious rule-keeping. But he also cleverly mixes in more modern commandments like, “You will not waste one second,” and “Be the best.” In other words, the law of self-empowerment is no less burdensome because of the impossibility of actually keeping it.
A few other scenes show budget constraints, as when Christian battles Apollyon. Something more creative might have looked less like a 1960s Godzilla movie. But these gripes are surprisingly few, given that the film’s financing started on Kickstarter.
The loveliest thing might be the introduction: Irish singer/songwriter Kristyn Getty exhorts us to use our imaginations to connect with our faith through storytelling. It’s a good thing to tell kids we don’t need to fear, though we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It’s a better thing to show them.
Share this article with friends.
Goose Gossage David Durochik/AP
Fastball explains the art of bringing the heat
by Sharon Dierberger
It’s not quite the same as box seats at Fenway or bleachers at Wrigley. But with baseball on hold, watching Fastball from your recliner brings a nostalgic smile.
This 2016 film, now on Amazon Prime (with some foul language), highlights pitchers who made the fastball great and hitters who tried to get a piece of one.
Insights and humor from baseball superstars such as Nolan Ryan, “Goose” Gossage, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks combine with scientific analysis to assess who had the best heater. Then there are comments like Bob Gibson’s: “Half that plate is mine. Now you gotta figure out which half I’m coming after.”
We learn the difference between facing pitches at 90 mph versus 100. If that doesn’t make you marvel at the incredible eyes and brain God gave us, and the serendipitous decision of baseball’s creators to put the pitcher’s mound 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate, nothing will.
The science inspires awe, but the film’s best parts show the game’s personalities. Banter between Hall of Famers, reflections by sluggers and hurlers, and historic interviews with legends Walter Johnson and Bob Feller remind us how the fastball has fascinated fans and players for a century.
Top-Grossing Baseball Films
• A League of Their Own (1992): $107.5 million
• 42 (2013): $95 million
• Moneyball (2011): $75.6 million
• The Rookie (2002): $75.6 million
• Field of Dreams (1989): $64.3 million
• The Benchwarmers (2006): $59.8 million
The coronavirus stoppage is the 11th time Major League Baseball has halted a season, the first for medical reasons. Most have been labor disputes.