Give it up for Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson as the bankers who helped changed the rules.
When you see recent period movies about African-Americans breaking all the rules, like in “The Help,” “Marshall,” “Green Book,” or “Django Unchained,” you know you’re in for a good time. That applies with “The Banker,” which has found its way on AppleTV, and makes for solid entertainment, if not a money masterpiece.
Writer/director George Nolfi (“The Adjustment Bureau”) reveals to us a true story about how African-American bankers Bernard Garrett and Joe Morris bought white banks. You also have Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson as the producers and actors portraying those figures, and the screenplay by Brad Kane, Niceole R. Levy, David Lewis Smith, and Stan Younger.
Mackie plays Bernard, an African-American investor, who dreams of making it big in Los Angeles. We see him as a young shoeshine in Texas, circa 1936, who learns all the skills he needs to get involved with money and big businesses. And we see him taking care of his family (Nia Long as his wife and Jaylon Gordon as his son) and struggling find any luck in investing in any big businesses, given the time period-the 1960s.
After showing his courage to an Irish-American businessman (Colm Meaney), he manages to buy an apartment complex. But when that deal eventually flops, he decides to collaborate with the hot shot investor Joe (Jackson) to buy a banking empire. That means those white bankers would be their tenants.
Of course, they need to hire a young, white man named Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) to pose as the investor. They just have to teach him to golf like rich, white folks, and to learn the math. On the side, Joe pretends to be his chauffeur, while Bernard would be the fake janitor. It works out successfully, by giving African-Americans their loans, but of course, it doesn’t go off without a hitch, provided by some sneaky white folks.
The movie has to feature racism, money talk, lawsuits, corruption, twists and turns, and courage-all features we’ve seen before, we’ll continue seeing, and we admire in these period pieces. They’re all balanced by flexibility, sly wit, and strengths and weaknesses, which keeps “The Banker” rolling the dice, and coming out a high roller.
Yes, the narrative is a bit run-of-the-mill, and the money talk is often confusing. But it’s still fun in the ways we gaze at these African-Americans investors breaking the rules in the time period by playing white folks for their businesses. Their characters are trying to make a difference, without any mean streaks, and their bold dialogue persuades us of that notion. Kudos to Mackie and Jackson for delivering the goods as those men, Hoult for solidly portraying their white confidante, and Nolfi for guiding these actors on the right path.
Available on AppleTV