The timing could hardly be worse for “Brian Banks,” a well meaning and emotionally engaging movie about the California Innocence Project’s incredible battle to exonerate a Long Beach football player who lost 11 years of his life to prison and parole after a high school classmate falsely accused him of rape. Independently made and still seeking distribution, the compelling biopic a stark departure from lowbrow studio comedies for “Ace Venture: Pet Detective” director Tom Shady ac — faces an uphill path not unlike the one CIP lawyer Justin Brooks (played here by Greg Kin near) accepted when he took Banks case (a chance-of-a-lifetime role for Aldis Hodge).
In a sign that this solid social-justice drama stands apart from current events — an exceptional case that neither contradicts nor enhances the me too movement “Brian Banks” was met with multiple standing ovations at its L.A. Film Festival premiere, even as the nation’s attention was turned to claims of attempted rape and sexual misconduct brought against Supreme Court nominee Brett Vaughan, and the imminent sentencing of Bill Cosby for drugging and assaulting one of many women who leveled such charges against him. Still, while “Brian Banks” went on to win Afflatus audience award, the question remains: Is this the movie the world needs now, one that casts doubt on survivor testimony and feeds a misogynistic culture’s fear that “good” men can have their lives destroyed by such accusations (while failing to acknowledge how sexual assault can do the same to its targets)
Needless to say it’s not that simple. Brian Banks is by no means an apologia for sexual aggression and no one would mistake it as such. If anything, this true story of an isolated case illustrates how infinitely complicated the issue of rape can be, demonstrating how systemic problems most notably race and class based prejudices result in someone like Banks being treated differently from people of privilege. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, for every 1,000 sexual assaults, only six of the perpetrators are incarcerated, but there’s a second statistic that Shadyac is focused on here. An estimated 94% of state felony convictions result from plea bargains, anywhere between 2-8% of whom are actually innocent. So, while rape charges should absolutely be taken seriously, California’s clogged legal system never intended to give him a fair trial. Contrast Banks sentence (following a no contest plea) with college swimmer Brock Turner’s and the injustice becomes egregious.
This is no paycheck project for Shady ac, directing his first narrative feature in more than a decade. Films such as Patch Adams and Bruce Almighty may have made him rich and famous, but in 2007, the successful Hollywood director suffered a nasty concussion following a bicycle-riding accident, which inspired him to reevaluate his priorities. Shady ac pledged to refocus his attention in a more positive way, and here we find the born-again filmmaker showing a greater aptitude for relatively nuanced drama than he ever did in the comedy arena, even while operating at a fraction of his usual budget.