I know how I’m supposed to feel about The Banker.
I’m supposed to see the story and its significance. Two African-American men owned over one hundred buildings in 1960’s Los Angeles, and then went on to own two banks in Texas. Texas, in case anyone has forgotten, was a stronghold of the South in an area rife with oppression towards people of color. That story alone is so amazing I’d find it hard to believe were it not true. Let’s add in the fact that these same men hired a white employee to sit in for them on the business meetings. Now we have some potential fun and intrigue thrown into the mix.
A good story is one thing, but how you tell the story is another matter entirely, and this is where The Banker failed to return on my time investment.
The Banker works on paper. Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson are the stars. The ever versatile Nicholas Hoult lends support. Nia Long co-stars as a long suffering, always faithful, supportive-to-a-fault wife. They are the winds in the sails of a film that often finds itself afloat in the doldrums. You see, The Banker works on paper because it ticks all the boxes to a tee; there is not one biopic trope that’s gone missing. If the movie felt any less natural, it would be perfectly at home on the Discovery Channel (and if I’m being honest about how I feel, it’s really only missing a narrator and some financial expert sidebars to be that kind of experience). Education is a good thing—endless exposition about the real estate market and the equations to match are the other thing.
I do understand why this is the approach they took; these men were playing in a rigged game, and what better way to show it than to have them express their superiority at every turn: they were smarter than everyone, had more money than most, and they had a giant chip on their shoulder. A lifetime living among racism will do that. These men had to dress as janitors and chauffeurs to secretly be present at their own business meetings. The film uses this fact as a running gag. I see it as a sad commentary. Perhaps it’s both.
I can’t really put my finger on what I was expecting. I didn’t find myself moved in any particular manner. I see The Banker as safe. It was a rote exercise in Black History, reworked and rewritten—to what end? I felt no real anger or conflict. These men paved the way for integrated neighborhoods in Los Angeles. They “stuck it to the man” and beat them at their own game… For a time. I thought I should feel more jubilation at that, but I don’t. When everything is said and done, they lost a battle in the larger war. The movie paints this as a small victory but I didn’t see it that way. There’s a sad inevitability that looms over the film from beginning to end, and I feel they scrubbed it over to make the movie palatable instead of digging deep into it. I think I would have appreciated The Banker more if they had decided to use the shovels. There’s a fine balance between entertainment, information, and education. I didn’t find an underlying message beyond the history lesson and that leaves me conflicted. I won’t go so far as to tell you not to watch. The scores for this film are above average. I’ll just say that I may not be the film’s intended audience.
Recommendation: STREAM IT