One of the great pleasures in watching a film comes when you can discover a story for the first time that’s not only hugely entertaining, but also a fact-based lesson in a real-life story you would otherwise have missed. The new movie ‘The Banker,” which is the debut feature film offered by the ambitious Apple TV Plus video-streaming platform, serves up a story of two African American men who beat the odds against systematic segregation in the 1950s en route to wild success as real estate and banking entrepreneurs.
“A Film That Jumps Off The Screen”
The film stars Anthony Mackie as Bernard Garrett, a strait-laced and uptight man who has a genius-level capacity for numbers and business equations, and Samuel L. Jackson as the strutting and streetwise, yet business-savvy, Joe Morris. This unlikely duo teams up to beat the banking system’s string-pullers at their own game, in a film that jumps off the screen with the sheer exuberance of pride and joy that both actors are clearly feeling in their roles.
It also features a really fun key supporting turn by Nicholas Hoult as Matt Steiner, a white and younger friend of Bernard’s cousin who is willing to be color-blind amid 1950s-era Los Angeles because of having both a good heart and a curious mind. The film kicks off in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s in small-town Texas, where Bernard is an ambitious shoe-shine boy who logs information on his various clients and also spies upon bank meetings so he can learn how white people conduct major real estate transactions.
Jumping to 1953 Los Angeles, Bernard and his wife Eunice (Nia Long, in another strong supporting role) and young son arrive and move into a shed owned by her family. Bernard has amassed a fortune already from real estate dealings with the black community in Texas but wants to take things even bigger in California.
Eunice’s uncle scoffs, but she’s a firm believer that he’s a financial genius. She introduces him to Joe, who owns a booming black nightclub that she worked at as a cocktail waitress. Jackson’s cocky, fast-living lifestyle offends the strait-laced Bernard, but he eventually realizes that he needs a business partner to help him raise the capital to make any major moves.
Joe’s mother was a real estate agent for the black community when he was a child, and he now owns 18 buildings himself. When the two men find themselves still shut out on most high-priced transactions, they realize they need a front man to be the face of their company so they turn to Matt. Teaching Matt how to fit in as a golfer with high-falutin’ manners is indeed the film’s most entertaining sequence.
Essentially, this is a con artist story, but the film takes things to a higher plane by the fact that their attempts to beat the white business world at its own game – and the backlash they face as a result – is both true and heroic. Director George Nolfi (“The Adjustment Bureau”) was one of five credited writers on the film, yet he impressively weaves together all those disparate visions into a fast-moving and cohesive whole that’s always engaging from start to finish.
The jazzy score by H. Scott Salinas keeps things swinging throughout the many upbeat sequences that feature Bernard, Joe and Matt pulling off one improbable victory after another. Yet he also brings a lushly sad emotional tone to a mid-film sequence in which Bernard takes his young son on a walk through his Texas hometown, only to find that prejudice still lurks throughout.
“The Banker” is extremely rewarding and highly entertaining, with a PG13 rating tied to one F word and a few other milder swears. This is a film the whole family can watch together. It’s also a good sign of the ambitious slate of programming that Apple TV Plus has lined up for its unveiling, including three series – “Little America” (an anthology series based on true stories from recent immigrants), “The Morning Show” (with an amazing cast of Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell) and a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s 1980s fantasy anthology “Amazing Stories” – that makes the $4.99 monthly fee a worthy investment for your entertainment dollar, especially in this period of having unlimited time to search for good programs.
*Subscribers who recently purchased or will soon buy a new Apple device may qualify to get a free year of the service. Check with Apple for details.
Editor’s Note: Apple has launched “Apple TV Plus” as an application that can stream entertainment on any Apple TV hardware device (which should not be confused with the Apple TV Plus video service which we are reviewing here). Also many Smart TVs are now capable of streaming the Apple TV Plus service. Check your TV hardware for more details or we recommend visiting the manufacturers website for your specific TV.