Compound interest: “The Banker”, a little-known story of a black real estate mogul

Left to right, Nicholas Hoult, Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie in a scene from “The Banker.” (Courtesy of Apple TV Plus)

“The Banker” is a strange title for this film. This has the effect of underselling a compelling story about a black business scholar who was inspired by real events. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) became a Los Angeles real estate magnate and (eventually) the owner of a bank in his hometown of Texas at a time when all cards were against him.

At the very least, “The Banker” doesn’t seem like the best way to describe Bernard, his accomplishments, or even reflect what it’s all about: the de facto and legal ways in which African Americans have been excluded from participation. fair to real estate and business. .

That’s all to say, don’t let that deter you from giving this solid movie a chance when it hits Apple TV Plus on Friday. Directed by George Nolfi (“The Adjustment Bureau”), “The Banker” is a fairly traditional biopic with a civil rights bent and some caper elements. With lush period costumes and a terrific cast including Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson as his business partner Joe Morris, Nia Long as Bernard’s wife, Eunice and Nicholas Hoult, this just might be the watch. easy perfect for anyone looking for new streaming content.

We are introduced to Bernard as a precocious youngster living in 1930s Texas. He is ambitious and self-taught and listens to the men whose shoes he shines to learn business acumen. His father praises his intelligence but advises him to dream smaller.

The film then cuts to Los Angeles in 1954, where Bernard, still decked out in a tight-fitting suit, goes looking for investment properties. ‘No’ is a word he hears often, until he meets Patrick Barker, an Irish landlord played by Colm Meaney, who sees potential in Bernard’s strategy of buying properties in adjacent white neighborhoods to black quarters and give him a chance.

They begin to do business together, but there is a catch: although Bernard has all the right ideas, he is forced to remain in the shadows of each deal, knowing that his skin color would be a deciding factor for many in the 1950s in Los Angeles. When his partnership with Patrick comes to an end, he and Joe Morris essentially owe Eliza Doolittle, a young working-class white man (Matt Steiner of Hoult) — who barely knows how to add — to be the face of their real estate empire. Joe, Eunice and Bernard teach Matt about sophistication in a particularly fun section of the film: how to play golf, how to eat shellfish, how to drink a good scotch and how to negotiate deals with captains of industry.

Samuel L. Jackson, left, and Anthony Mackie in a scene from “The Banker.” (Courtesy of Apple TV Plus)

It’s invigorating at first to see Bernard and Joe play puppeteer to buy the building that houses the bank that Bernard couldn’t even get an appointment with. The plan works, and they all get rich. But their plan begins to slip away from them as Bernard’s ambitions grow and Matt pushes for real responsibility. Getting rich isn’t Bernard’s only goal, after all: He also wants to bring about change for black people in the United States. Unfortunately, he underestimates how vindictive the Texas establishment is when they find out he is the real owner of the bank.

The movie’s engine slows to half in those Texas scenes, maybe because it decides to focus on Matt and at this point you’re just watching everything they’ve built come crashing down. As the credits roll, you feel like you never knew anything deeper than the surface about Bernard and Joe.

“The Banker” was supposed to hit theaters late last year, a long-running awards hope that was pulled when misconduct charges were brought against Bernard Garrett Jr., a producer on the film, by his half-sister. Her name was removed from the credits, but two of Bernard Sr.’s wives who are not portrayed in the film then disputed the accuracy of the story and timeline. The filmmakers responded that the story is based on Garrett’s own audio recordings from 1955.

This truth may never be revealed, but taken on its own, “The Banker” is an enjoyable watch. And who wouldn’t enjoy a little banter with Mackie and Jackson right now?

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