November 23, 2019 – A 16-year-old black man facing an all white jury on a false rape charge follows his lawyer's advice and pleads no contest, leading to a nightmare existence in prison, and beyond, but he refuses to let those mistakes seal his fate in this inspirational biographical film.
Brian Banks (played by Aldis Hodge of “Hidden Figures”) is a star high school football player, planning to attend the University of Southern California on a football scholarship, when his life is upended by a rape conviction. He loses the scholarship, spends years in prison and when he gets out he is forced to wear a GPS monitor, so he can't be near playgrounds or schools. That makes it very difficult for him to get a job.
Banks feels his life has been stolen from him and he wants to recover his freedom, so he writes a series of letters to the California Innocence Project, a legal defense organization dedicated to helping the wrongly convicted and accused, run by Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear of “Flash of Genius”). Brooks repeatedly rejects Banks case as unwinnable for legal reasons. He explains it is very difficult in California to overturn a conviction. Banks refuses to give up, however.
Flashbacks show the story of how Banks got into this mess in the first place, and it is a harrowing story of two teenagers who make a series of bad choices. Banks ends up in prison, and later is branded not only as an ex-convict, but as a sexual predator. The girl who accused him, Kennisha Rice (played by Xosha Roquemore of “The Disaster Artist,” on the other hand, winds up with a settlement from the school district of over $1 million. If Kennisha admits to lying about the rape, she would have to give up the money. Neither she, nor her mother, (played by Monique Grant) want to do that.
Banks files a writ of Habeas Corpus on his own with the court, seeking to overturn his conviction. He also gets some very convincing evidence of his innocence with the aid of a friend, but without the benefit of legal advice. The evidence turns out to be inadmissable in court, but it is enough to get the California Innocence Project and the district attorney (played by Jose Miguel Vasquez) to take another look at Banks' conviction.
Banks continues to write letters to the California Innocence Project, winning over two of Brook's staff members, who eventually persuade him to meet with Banks and pursue his case. Banks himself is also persuasive, having learned the power of perseverance and a take charge attitude from his teacher in prison, Jerome Johnson (Morgan Freeman).
In getting the exculpatory evidence, however, he has violated one of the conditions of his parole, a violation that could send him back to prison, but his parole officer, Mick Randolph (Dorian Missick of “Annie”) gives him a break by deciding not to report the violation until the end of Banks' parole. If Banks can clear his name before then, he might yet go free, but it all depends on the judge, the district attorney and Brooks, who will argue the case on behalf of Banks in court.
This is a great story, well told, about a man who refuses to give up on his quest for justice, despite the incredible odds against him. The real people depicted in this film, are shown in stills and clips at the end of the movie, explaining what happened to Banks and others after the events shown in the film (most of the events shown in the film conclude in 2013). This film rates a B.
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