Film Review: The Banker
Director: George Nolfi
Streaming on Apple TV+: 03.20
Apple has gotten off to a rocky start in the movie business with its controversial debut film, The Banker. The film made headlines when it was pulled from a prestigious closing night premiere of the 2019 AFI Film Festival after some very disturbing allegations were made concerning Bernard Garrett Jr., a credited producer and the son of the man who inspired the film. The film was hoping to be 2019’s Green Book, but after the scandal, Garrett’s credit was removed and The Banker all but lost its theatrical release and has just now hit streaming. Despite all this, the final product does more or less succeed in being another Green Book, in the sense that it’s an enjoyable but fluffy and formulaic movie about racial politics in the ’60s told almost entirely by white people.
Inspired by true events, the film chronicles the story of Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) and Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), two enterprising black men who successfully entered the banking industry when they hired a white man, Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), who serves as the clean-cut face of the enterprise while Garrett and Morris pulled the strings. The pair watched over Matt while disguised as a janitor and a chauffeur, respectively.
The Banker is engaging and often very likable, with Hoult showing a lot of star potential and Jackson delivering a lively and lovable performance. Mackie is more than capable as a lead, but Bernard is a bit too aloof a character throughout much of the film— it’s hard to get through the scenes centering on his relationship with his wife and son if you’ve followed the scandal. Nia Long portrays Garrett’s wife, Eunice, as a loving and tenacious woman who is supportive but also puts her husband in his place when he falls into sexist thinking, and is overall an important part of the whole operation. That’s nice, but it ignores the basic fact that Garrett divorced Eunice and was married to another woman throughout much of the story’s timeline. The two daughters he had with her would go on to state they were sexually abused by Bernard Jr., and that their father was dismissive of these claims. For me, that made the inspiring “I want a better world for Junior” sequences downright cringe-inducing, and the relationship between husband and wife simply doesn’t ring true.
Taken on its own merits, The Banker is a good film, but hardly a great one. It’s briskly entertaining and engaging, buoyed by strong lead performances—though the geek in me had to work not to think about Falcon and Nick Fury teaming up with Beast to buy banks—and strong production values. Director George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) is a skilled filmmaker who knows a good story when he sees one. The Banker is a charming, unremarkable film with admirable goals that work if you can tune out the behind-the-scenes drama. I was able to do so most of the time, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. –Patrick Gibbs