Racial status matters in ‘The Banker’

Laguna Niguel (News4usonline) – Back in the fall, I eagerly looked forward to seeing The Banker, a story about two black men doing some daring and rather marvelous things in the real estate market and the banking industry back in the 1950s and 1960s.

I didn’t get the chance to see the film then because legalities forced the movie, starring Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nia Long, to have its release date pushed back.

That push back date turned out to be early March. And so, on a whim, as my wife and I decided to play getaway for a day, we chose to take in some relaxation time by going to the movies. Well, as we began sorting through a list of films that might be of interest to us, nothing came to mind.

As she searched her cellphone for movies and showtimes, The Banker flashed across her phone screen. Once she announced that The Banker was out in theaters, an instant “yes” came from the two of us. So, we made the trek deep into Orange County country and landed at the Regency Director’s Cut Cinema at Rancho Niguel to catch the two-hour flick.

The Banker
Nicholas Hoult (left), Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie in a scene from “The Banker.” Photo courtesy of Apple TV

If you are in the mood to watch a really good flick that is endowed with quality acting and good storytelling minus all the sex and violence that seems to come with all things theatrical these days, see The Banker. Never heard of it? I’m glad you asked.

The Banker is a subtle reprieve in a lot of ways from all the blood-thirsty violence, soft porn and animated overflux in the market of today’s film making machines called movie studios.

The film, which parlays excellent efforts from Mackie (The Falcon, Avengers: Infinity War), Jackson (Shaft, Nick Fury, Avengers: Endgame), Long (Dear White People, Empire), and Nicholas Hoult, had a lot of award buzz around it when was originally slated to debut in the fall of 2019 at the annual AFI Fest and had a release date in December. There was even some Oscar talk surrounding the well-payed drama.

When you see the measured and titanic efforts put forth by Mackie, Jackson, Long, as well as Hoult, you’ll understand why. At present due to imposed social restrictions because of the coronavirus you’ll have to be content watching The Banker on Apple’s streaming service (Apple TV Plus) beginning March 20, to fully understand what we’re saying here.

The Banker
Samuel L. Jackson (left) and Anthony Mackie star in the drama “The Banker.” Photo courtesy of Apple TV

The fact that the film is out for the public to see is a minor miracle in itself. That’s because some damaging information about one of the film’s producers, who is related to one of the key figures in the film, nearly derailed The Banker  from seeing the light of day.

Thankfully, that did not happen. Now, the movie-going public or for those who prefer the comforts of their living room or entertainment space at home can see what the hype is about. For one, The Banker is based on true events involving two successful black businessmen (Mackie and Jackson) and how they used their entrepreneurial wits to maneuver past the racial inequities that barred them from purchasing real estate.

So, instead of allowing segregation and Jim Crow rule their way of thinking, Bernard Garrett (Mackie) and Joe Morris (Jackson) form an unlikely and very successful collaboration to have a white man serve as the frontman and the face of their business as they snapped up commercial property around Los Angeles.

Now, there is some dispute from members of Garrett’s family surrounding the semantics of when and how those properties were purchased.

Again, because the film is inspired and based on true events, the gist of the story focuses on Garrett and Morris and their ability to outhustle a system that was designed to block them pursuing the American dream in the first place. This is not to suggest in any way that either Garrett or Morris were dressed up slickers looking for a Jim Crow handout.

In many ways, The Banker is like a celebration of what the two men went on to accomplish before their ego and a bit of greed eventually took them down the path of monetary decimation and imprisonment. A second reason why the The Banker should be seen is the Hidden Figures agenda at work here.

The Banker
Anthony Mackie (left), Nia Long, Samuel L. Jackson and Nicholas Hoult share a light moment in “The Banker.” Photo courtesy of Apple TV

The Banker is a success story in my eyes because, once again, another untold and largely unknown story about prominent black figures, has been unveiled on the big screen for all to see.

I lived in Los Angeles for most of my life and never knew anything about Garrett and Morris. So can you imagine how young people, particularly African American students, who would have missed out on seeing the boldness and audacity of four individuals who risked everything to try to make things better for their community? Plenty.

Hidden Figures showed you can be a trailblazer without the celebrity caveat attached to you. Garrett and Morris are right along with those women who sparked a blaze in Hidden Figures with their audacious actions in The Banker to help blacks become home buyers and in tune with banking options.

A mathematical whiz, Garrett is the driving force behind the duo’s capitalistic ventures while Morris helps with the financial planning and backing while the two men deal with climbing the obvious segregation obstacles they must overcome back in the day when just about everything was largely seen in black or white. Even in Los Angeles.

That period was very unkind to Negroes. That’s being polite about the matter. Jackson, as he always does to any character he plays, brings his A-Game in portraying Morris as a shrewd but a bit over-the-top personality that bounces off well against the no-nonsense and stoic persona of Garrett.

As for Mackie, he continues to make strides as thespian in each film he takes on, either in a supporting role or lead man.

As the lead actor in The Banker, Mackie is impressive with his unapologetic and measured portrayal of Garrett. As great as Mackie is in imitating Garrett in the film, Long is his equal as Eunice Garrett, the real estate’s baron first wife. Long projects Eunice Garrett as a quiet force behind the man making things happen for his community.

At first, I was a bit curious as to how Long (49) would be able to pull off portraying Eunice Garrett given the fact that the real-life character she was playing was a lot younger. Well, Long pulled it because of her undeniable acting chops. It also helps that Long does not look like she is a day older than 30.

Long lends her motherly protectiveness to Eunice as well as dropping a good dose of tenderness to make her role stronger than the limited time she is on the screen. As for Hoult, The Banker simply doesn’t fly without his stellar performance as Matt Steiner.

It is a marvelous transition to see Hoult take Steiner from being a wet-behind-the-ears novice to a guy walking around with the audacity of privileged white man swag and believing he was smarter than the two men who propped him up. Once that happens, the film takes a turn. And not in a good way for Garrett and Morris.

In summary, The Banker is a beautifully told story. It certainly is worth your time to invest in.

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