Director Tom Shadyac's non-linear format is a brilliantly effective approach for this heartbreaking and inspiring film.
The new film, "Brian Banks," tells a story not often told, especially these days. It is the true account of a 16-year-old black student convicted of a rape that he did not commit and how he fought a system rigged against him.
In 2006, Brian Banks (played by Aldis Hodges), a junior in high school, had a promising professional football career ahead of him. But when a classmate (Xosha Roguemore) falsely accused him of rape, his life took a horrific turn for the worse. Brian was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison.
Upon his release, he still had three years on parole and had to be registered as sex offender for the rest of his life. No one would hire him and his dream of playing in the NFL was shattered. He wasn't even allowed to come within 2,000 feet of any areas open to children. Had it not been for his loving and supportive mother (Sherri Shepherd), Brian would have ended up living on the streets.
When he seeks the help of attorney Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear) of the California Innocence Program, Brian is told that he must provide new evidence to reopen his case. And it has to be "extraordinary." Suddenly, in 2011, out of the blue, his accuser contacts him via social media "to make amends" and the wheels of justice begin to spin in his favor.
Director Tom Shadyac ("Liar, Liar") opts for a non-linear format that brilliantly fills in all the missing pieces as it progresses. He also tosses out out a myriad of statistics that are jaw-dropping. One is that Brian only had 10 minutes to consider a plea of "no contest," which he was told only carried a three year's probation period. Another was that DNA evidence gathered, which would have exonerated him, was not brought forth at trial.
Powerful performances also propel this inspirational film to more than worth a watch. Shepherd's grieving and steadfast portrayal of a mother who defends her son at every turn is riveting. But it's the soft-spoken, wide-eyed innocence that Hodges exudes as a man grappling for survival that leaves an indelible mark in our minds. Keep an eye on this guy.
Brian Banks ultimately went on to play in the NFL. In 2013, he became a linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons at age 28. "Brian Banks" stands as a testament to perseverance and overcoming immeasurable odds. But most importantly, it provides a perspective from an alternative vantage point.