Apple TV+: The Banker (2020) - Reviewed

Writer-director George Nolfi first burst onto the cinematic scene with his directorial debut based upon the short story by Philip K. Dick The Adjustment Bureau in 2011 before hastily taking on the Bruce Lee biopic with the critically maligned Birth of the Dragon.  A few years later, the director would find his latest work The Banker mired in controversy again when one of the producers loosely related to the main protagonist in the film got swept up in MeToo allegations just days before the film’s original release date.  Ultimately the film was delayed by a few months before receiving a limited two-week theatrical run and ultimately going permanently on Apple TV+’s digital streaming service.  A shame this one was more or less dumped into the marketplace as the picture itself is quite good and features the always delightful personality of Samuel L. Jackson.

Beginning in 1954 Texas, The Banker tells the true story of Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie), a black real estate agent whose business affairs are met with distinctly southern racism.  Backed into a corner Garrett enlists the help of Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), a wealthy club owner who joins forces to buy up much of the remaining buildings in the Los Angeles area.  With the help of their protégé and new face of the company, white male Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), the trio soon sets their sights on a Texas bank in Garrett’s hometown in order to provide loans to disadvantaged black customers unable to secure financial support otherwise.  All seems well, until Mr. Steiner’s beginner’s level banking skills comes back to haunt the trio.

Spoken of the same breath as Marshall, Green Book and Just Mercy, The Banker is another one of those movies highlighting the struggles and uphill battles of middle class black Americans and the great risks taken to forcibly push for equal rights.  What separates this one from the pack are the performers, notably Mr. Jackson who always brings a distinct charm to any role he’s in.  Anthony Mackie, best known for his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perfectly embodies the distinguished classiness of Bernard Garrett, a determined man charging headlong into uncharted territory.  Nicholas Hoult, probably best known for his War Boy in Mad Max: Fury Road, also provides a strong yet sympathetic supporting presence in a role of the protégé eager to please his superiors but too inexperienced to know when he’s being taken advantage of.

A gloriously rendered period drama shot handsomely in panoramic widescreen by Fences cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, The Banker is always pretty to look at with keen attention paid to the period production and costume design as well.  The light jazzy soundtrack by Duplex composer H. Scott Salinas manages to be engaging without becoming overbearing, functioning as a soft backdrop to the proceedings.  Again, a shame this got such a miniscule release because the production values of this piece are indeed very good and even better some of the wider theatrical releases of the year.

Available exclusively on Apple TV+, The Banker strikes familiar ground but the production and performances are handled so well we hardly care if this biographical real-estate historical drama tends to be by the numbers.  As always, Samuel L. Jackson is a joy to watch and the story being told remains a relevant one in our modern political landscape.  Unfortunate that the clandestine limited release more or less swept the film under the rug for most viewers but most rewarding for those who manage to see it.

--Andrew Kotwicki