Review by Sean Boelman
Finally hitting Apple TV+ after a months-long delay due to allegations against one of the film’s producers, George Nolfi’s ‘60s-set biopic The Banker is likely the highest-profile release for the service yet. A safe if moderately entertaining drama, the movie relies a bit too heavily on its charming and star-studded cast.
The film tells the story of two African-American entrepreneurs who hire a white man to impersonate them in order to form a business empire in real estate and banking. Based on a true story that doesn’t get a whole lot of space in history books, this story is nonetheless fundamentally tied to what is arguably the most important era in the history of civil rights.
That said, Nolfi’s movie never hits as hard as it potentially could, seemingly in an attempt to make the film as neutral and inoffensive as possible. Portions of the story had the potential to dive into some of the more important issues of race relations that still plague society today, but the movie instead settles for some of the more generic racial antagonism that comes with awards bait movies like this.
The film does a good enough job of making the characters sympathetic, but there isn’t much depth to them. Viewers are given very little information about the characters outside of their personal endeavors. Two of the three lead characters have spouses that get a decent amount of screen time, but those relationships seem more like an afterthought instead of a legitimate means of characterization.
However, perhaps the most frustrating thing about the movie is that it is questionably structured. For the first act of the film, this is very much Bernard Garrett’s (Anthony Mackie) story, but in the second act, Matt Steiner (Nicolas Hoult) effectively becomes the protagonist. Why the movie’s five credited writers (four wrote the screenplay, with one additional writer getting story by credit) chose to make this white man the lead in a story about civil rights is inexplicable.
Regardless, the actors do a great job in the film. Mackie and Hoult are great as the leads, both having roles more weighty than is usual for them. Mackie, in particular, takes advantage of this opportunity to have a greater chance at the spotlight, leaning into the inspirational elements of the movie well. Yet it is Samuel L. Jackson in a role that is more reserved than usual (he still gets his PG-13 f-bomb moment, though) who steals the screen.
On a technical level, Nolfi’s film is the type of polished period piece that one would normally expect older audiences to flock to in droves. The cinematography and production design are slick and do a good job of periodizing the movie, and the score is jazzy and sets the mood well. But much like the script, many of Melfi’s decisions seem like they come from the safest place possible.
The Banker is an enjoyable enough film for what it is, but it doesn’t achieve its full potential as a true story set during the era of civil rights. Ultimately, since the movie is coming out on a relatively new platform, it may take a while for it to reach its intended audience.
The Banker is now streaming on Apple TV+.
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