‘The Banker’ Brings Black Tribulations to Light

I attended a press screening for “The Banker” in November as part of my coverage of AFI FEST, but the next day, I was surprised that the premiere was cancelled due to sexual abuse allegations–not against any of the actors, but against one of the co-producers. The Apple TV+ PR department must have had a few days of panic, but “The Banker” is now scheduled to be released 20 March 2020.

“The Banker” is about two, not one bankers, Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) and Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie),  who broke through the fortress of predominately white bankers to become two of the first African-American bankers. The film looks at their rise and fall. The rise takes place in Los Angeles. The fall, in Texas.

Garrett is a numbers guy; he listens to what the customers of his shoe-shining business say and then attempts to make a profit from it, but there’s only so far that one can go in Texas during that time period. A married grown up Garrett makes his way to Los Angeles with his wife Eunice (Nia Long) and stays at the home of relatives. In Los Angeles, he meets the slicker Joe Morris and convinces him to bankroll the purchase of properties and eventually the twosome buy the building where the banks are. That unsettles the white banking establishment and Garrett and Morris might have done better to stay in Southern California, but Garrett goes back to Texas and attempts to give back to his hometown black community by buying up a bank and giving loans to black people.

The only way that is possible is by finding a white frontman Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult). Garrett and Morris pretend to be his hired help. Steiner associated with them in Los Angeles, but in Texas, he’s married and his wife, Susie (Taylor Black), is ambitious. She wants more, not realizing that Steiner isn’t the financial brains, although he’s learned his part well enough. Eventually, he makes a mistake the bankers must answer to the federal government.

Don’t worry, George Nolfi and Niceole R. Levy’s screenplay (with story by Brad Kane and writing by David Lewis Smith and Stan Younger) will have a happy ending of sorts. Under the direction of Nolfi, the feeling of the movie is one of great style in a justified con, but things are a slight bit too slick, too easy.

That’s startling because the sexual abuse allegations remind us that the unified team of Garrett and his first wife Eunice presented in the film broke down. The film makes no mention of a divorce or any type of trouble in the senior Garrett’s first marriage to Eunice. There is no mention of these half-sisters.

The sexual abuse allegations were made by Cynthia and Sheila Garrett against their half-brother Bernard Garrett Jr.  Bernard Garrett Jr. is portrayed as a child in the film (by Jaylon Gordon), but his appearances are brief. The senior Garrett sold his story to Romulus Entertainment according to Deadline, but when he died in 1999, those rights went to Garrett Jr. He became a co-producer “in name only.”

The New York Times describes Garrett and Morris as “San Francisco” men. The legal decision against Garrett and Morris was:

Appellants Garrett and Morris were convicted of willfully misapplying national bank funds insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 656. They were charged in a two-count indictment. The first count alleged a substantive violation of the statute; the second charged a conspiracy to violate the statute in the same manner. They were convicted on both counts and received concurrent sentences.

Certainly, it’s wonderful that this tale of Garrett and Morris comes to light. The packaging of this film is fine and smooth, but. it doesn’t rise to the excellence of “The Sting.” Overall, “The Banker” is entertaining and a reminder that you can sometimes find a way to work around prejudice and other obstacles. Hopefully, we’ll see and hear more about Garrett and Morris and other enterprising people who did.

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