Orange Thursday: The Banker (2020)

Every Thursday, TMINE reviews two movies, carefully avoiding infringing a former mobile phone company’s trademarked marketing gimmick

Despite (theoretically) having more time to watch movies since The Event, the lack of open cinemas and good new things to watch on the streaming services has severely cramped Orange Thursday’s style. So there’s only one movie being reviewed today.

All the same, we do have the first Apple TV+ movie to peruse, The Banker (2020). Based on a true story, it sees Anthony Mackie and Samuel L Jackson going into business together in an effort to make money – and maybe help other African-Americans make money – in the 1960s.

Don’t worry: it’s better than it sounds.

See you after the ads and the trailers.

Nicholas Hoult, Samuel L Jackson and Anthony Mackie in The Banker

The Banker (2020)

Plot

In the 1960s, two entrepreneurs (Anthony Mackie and Samuel L Jackson) hatch an ingenious business plan to fight for housing integration – and equal access to the American Dream. Nicholas Hoult and Nia Long co-star in this drama inspired by true events.

TMINE verdict

The Banker isn’t quite what you think it’s going to be. It’s an Apple TV+ original movie about two black men facing racial discrimination during the 1960s as they try to make money first in real estate and then in banking. Sounds both worthy and soporific, doesn’t it?

And the first act of the movie is certainly worthy, detailing as it does Mackie’s childhood in Texas, his determination to make money by learning from white people whose shoes he shines the secrets of making money, before he moves as an adult to California to become a real estate tycoon. His plan? To provide housing for a booming new market – the new urban black middle and professional classes – in areas that are traditionally white.

There he meets the louche Samuel L Jackson, who if not born to money has at least not faced the discrimination Mackie has. At first resistant to a partnership with someone who’s not ‘whiter than whiter’, preferring instead to deal with apartment owner Colm Meaney, Mackie soon finds that for every one white man who’s happy to do business with a black men, there’s 10 men (or women) who won’t – and are prepared to sabotage things for him.

Bank heist

It’s in the second act that the movie becomes far more entertaining. Here, Jackson and Mackie essentially enter a different genre of movie – the conman movie. Their job is to do business without ever revealing that they’re black and without annoying white folk who don’t want black folk moving in with them.

Their task becomes even harder when Mackie decides he wants to do the same thing in Texas, where the banks won’t lend him money – so decides to buy the banks so that they will. And they start lending to other black folks, too…

So Remington Steele style they bring in nice white guy Nicholas Hoult to be the ostensible head of the business. Trouble is, Hoult knows nothing about banking and worse still for anyone trying to make deals – he can’t play golf. Cue the My Fair Lady sequences.

All of which is far more engaging and exciting than you might think, particularly in a movie that’s actually fairly keen on dealing with the mathematics of investment, and the rules and regulations of banking in the 60s in the US. It’s very much The Sting, just with the good guys being the black conmen with their slightly dumber white helper.

Statement movie

The final act is then about the political repercussions that result, both local and federal, but I won’t spoil them for you. Needless to say, the movie starts to become less fun and more worthy again.

The movie works best, though, during its heist phase. Here, Jackson is clearly enjoying himself and gets all the best lines. Mackie gets almost no good lines and delivers pretty much the same performance he gave in Altered Carbon, just with less fighting, making it harder to really enjoy what he’s doing. You just have to appreciate what his character is trying to do.

The writing is decent, if not excellent. The plot strong but not compelling. You’ll probably enjoy The Banker if you watch it, but not wowed by a story that’s interesting and quite important, just not so important you can’t imagine it’s never been dramatised before.

TMINE rating

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
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