WHAT TO SEE: When an innocent is falsely maligned
Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Tiffany Dupont
Run time: 99 min • PG
JAMES ALLEN’S 1903 collection of essays, As a Man Thinketh, exhorts readers to take control of their lives through positive thinking and tireless focus on ideals and purpose. It’s why Allen is rightly counted among the pioneers of the modern self-help movement.
The book figures in the new film Brian Banks, true story of a high school football star and USC recruit falsely accused of rape. After receiving abysmal legal advice to accept a plea deal that doesn’t go as promised, Banks spends five years behind bars and several more on parole as a registered sex offender as he struggles to clear his name and reassemble the pieces of his shattered life – and perhaps realize his dream, once seemingly assured, of an NFL career.
Amid today’s heightened attention to sexual assault, Brian Banks portrays a real-life case in which an accuser’s mixed motives led to fabricated allegations, and a flawed judicial system punished the innocent.
Under harsh prison conditions, young Banks descends into palpable despair until a kindly counselor gifts him with Allen’s book and offers sage wisdom: you can’t always control what life throws your way, but you can control how you respond.
Resolving to change his perspective and embrace his challenges, Banks eventually emerges from prison a better man, but his criminal record limits his opportunities. Finally convincing the California Innocence Project to take up his cause, he doggedly perseveres against significant adversity as he seeks exoneration.
There’s virtue in how Banks practices Allen’s thesis despite many setbacks, battling frustrations and maintaining hope even after his accuser’s taped recantation is deemed inadmissible. His understated Christian faith also provides strength.
There’s no fairy-tale epilogue: Banks finally got his shot at the NFL in his late 20s but was too out of condition to survive preseason cuts. It’s a thought-provoking, bittersweet story about a young man who mustered the fortitude to rise above what life threw his way.
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.