PLOT A once-promising pro athlete tries to clear his name of the rape charge that ruined his career.
CAST Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd
RATED PG-13 (adult themes)
BOTTOM LINE An inspirational true story that may spark some debate in this #MeToo era.
"Brian Banks," Tom Shadyac's conventional but compelling biopic, is a timeless drama that nevertheless arrives at an inopportune time. Banks, a high-school football star from Southern California, was accused of rape by a classmate in 2002 and spent nearly six years in prison. After his release, he fought to have his conviction overturned and – minor spoiler – succeeded after proving his accuser had made up her story.
"Brian Banks" has all the makings of a rousing and inspirational drama, though you might be wondering: As women make tremendous headway in speaking out about rape and fighting the fear of not being taken seriously, is this the right moment to tell Banks' story? Audiences will have to decide for themselves.
Either way, it would be hard not to root for this movie's hero, played by a very good Aldis Hodge. Mostly a television actor, Hodge gets one of his first major film roles here and runs with it. Though he's a bit old at 34 to be playing a 17-year-old in flashbacks, Hodge is a soulful presence who immediately pulls us onto his side.
The film, written by Doug Atchison, does a good job of showing Banks' predicament. He's a grown man living with his mom (a moving Sherri Shepherd). He's so dedicated to football that he tries playing for the local city college but, as a registered sex offender, he can't be near a school, let alone in one. For that same reason, job offers are hard to find.
As for dating, forget it – although Karina (Melanie Liburd), a personal trainer Banks meets at a gym, just may be willing to believe in him.
Things look up for Banks when he begins pestering Justin Brooks, a lawyer with the California Innocence Project. Brooks is a real figure, and Greg Kinnear plays him convincingly: wealthy and distracted but, once on board, a tireless advocate. There's some fun in watching Brooks and his team do their detective work, but the real drama comes from Banks' inner fight to keep the faith. Morgan Freeman, as a jailhouse mentor, and Dorian Missick, as Bank's hard-nosed but not unsympathetic parole officer, add depth to the narrative.
All told, "Brian Banks" might be a bit out of step with its moment. Taken on its own, though, it's a solid and satisfying true-life drama.