Brian Banks lost 11 years of his life when he was wrongly convicted of a crime he didn't commit. His story is the subject of a new sports movie, releasing August 9. 

By Jacob Feldman
August 07, 2019

For nearly 10 years Brian Banks fought for his freedom. A standout high school linebacker in 2002, he was falsely accused of rape and after being convinced to plead no contest, was sentenced to six years in prison. In jail, he studied the California penal code and applied for relief, but to no avail. Even after getting out, he learned that life as a convicted sex offender on strict parole was far from free. Ultimately, he secured a recantation from his accuser and got the charges dismissed, eventually achieving his dream of putting on an NFL uniform. Now a biopic opening Friday will tell his story nationwide.

“Brian’s story is a metaphor for the prisons we all find ourselves in,” director Tom Shadyac said. “The positivity he was able to display, and the persistence to get himself free—it was his attitude that was the cementing factor for my commitment.”

Shadyac has undergone his own transformation. Known for comedies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar, Brian Banks represents a significant departure—and his first narrative film of any kind since Evan Almighty in 2007. That same year, a bicycle accident led to a multiple year battle with post-concussion syndrome.

“I felt suicidal at points,” Shadyac said in 2014. “The worst thing you could do to someone is sentence them to solitary confinement, and that is what this felt like.” After recovering, he reoriented his life, giving away millions in the process. Now Shadyac teaches in Memphis, where filmed Brian Banks, with thirty mentees from a local historically black college shadowing on the production. 

“My films are my way of trying to put forth the energy and create a small slice of the world I want to see,” Shadyac said. “If we’re doing a movie about social justice, why don’t we become a part of that social justice movement.”

Brian Banks was initially slated to come out last year, even showing last year at the L.A. Film Festival and reportedly receiving five standing ovations. However that same month saw Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing following Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of past sexual violence. Producers ultimately decided to push the release back. But more than gender politics, Brian Banks opts for the inspiring if straightforward story of people’s ability to fight “the system” by reminding powerful officials of their shared humanity.

Few actors can successfully portray a hulking middle linebacker, yet Aldis Hodge pulls it off. After filming a prison scene with Hodge, Morgan Freeman—who makes a small appearance in the movie—walked over to Shadyac. “He’s got it,” Freeman told Shadyac, referring to the young actor. “This kid’s got it.”

The narrative largely keeps Banks quiet as viewers see the way the world hemmed in and shut up the one-time star prospect—until the third act, that is. Then, after having job applications denied and dates upended, Banks delivers the type of dramatic speech that would be at home in the final act of any sports movie. The moment is all the more staggering because of the way Hodge has sold his character’s quiet resoluteness to that point. John Debney’s music, alongside a soundtrack of upbeat earworms, only adds to the emotional power. (You can watch the clip below.)

The real-life Banks also offered inspiration while consulting during the filming, save for the scenes of his arrest and imprisonment which were too painful to relive. “Brian is a walking ball of light,” Hodge told Rich Eisen. “It was nauseating to understand what he went through.”

Having been away from the game for so long, Banks was unable to put together a lengthy NFL career. Instead he joined the league office and has devoted time to fighting for others who were falsely convicted. “I have no doubt he will grow as a leader in the social justice movement,” Shadyac said. The film succeeds in making clear why.

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