Among the numerous companies trying to cement their name in the streaming wars, Apple has gone under-the-radar with their new service Apple+. While shows like The Morning Show and See gathered some attention last year, the service is still a niche offering compared to giants like Netflix and Hulu. The service’s film debut The Banker is another project under the Apple mantle that is going unnoticed, which is a shame considering its strengths as a sly historical con caper.
The Banker follows the true story of Bernard Garett (Anthony Mackie), an intelligent real estate agent who finds himself battling against the restrictions of civil rights America in the 1950s. After developing a successful partner relationship with the boisterous Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), the two decide to gain a larger stake in the real estate world by having their inexperienced partner Matt (Nicholas Hoult) serve as the surrogate face of operations.
Similar to historical crowdpleasers like Hidden Figures and The Highwaymen that dramatize their real-life narratives, The Banker’s strengths lie in its cast. Anthony Mackie may be better known as the heroic Falcon/Captain America, but the underrated star delivers a career-best performance here. As Bernard, Mackie captures the mannered confidence of the astute businessman while portraying his suppressed anguish towards the broken system he faces. When he’s cool persona boils over, including a noteworthy third act courtroom scene, Mackie commands the screen while displaying his impressive range.
It’s a blast to see this core cast working together, with Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nicholas Hoult having dynamite chemistry together onscreen. Jackson’s energetic persona never fails to grab the viewer’s attention, making for an effective comedic foil against Bernard’s calm presence. Hoult’s charismatic charm adds to the role of Matt, while Nia Long bolsters the archetype wife role with dramatic strength.
Instead of presenting itself as a stuffy period piece, director George Nolfi wisely translates this story as a con caper, with our protagonists outsmarting the problematic racial standards of the time. Stylizing this approach with a jazzy score and uptempo editing style, Nolfi grabs audiences’ interest and maintains it through its well-paced two-hour runtime. At the same time, Nolfi and his script (collaborated on by 4 writers) don’t forget the complications of its civil-rights setting, with thoughtful dramatic shadings adding to the film’s full portrait.
The Banker certainly entertains but it does fall short of reaching grander heights. While Nolfi interjects some personality into the proceedings, the general approach is still in the wheelhouse of similar historical biopics. Whether its cliched side characters that stand in place of genuine people or speechified dialogue that over-explain the film’s purpose, the script is far too general to capture the deeply-felt nuance of its true story.
No one will tout The Banker for its originality, but its assured execution in front of and behind the camera offers an effective historical diversion. Considering the current dearth of content, you could certainly do worse than Apple’s first foray in film.
Written by Matt Conway