Popcorn with Zenger: ‘The Banker’ offers an inspiring true story with great performances

The American Dream may seem unattainable, but “The Banker” shows not even institutionalized racism can stop those who are committed to win.

The true story of two black entrepreneurs drives “The Banker,” an inspiring story of rising above limitations to succeed in America.

In one of the strongest performances of his career, Anthony Mackie plays Bernard Garrett, who showed great promise as a businessman in the 1960s but had to overcome Jim Crow to make it out of a small town in Texas.

Garrett moves to California and meets seedy-but-successful entrepreneur Joe Morris, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Together they come up with a plan to conquer Los Angeles real estate.

The duo hires working-class white man Matt Steiner, played by Nicholas Hoult in another strong performance, to pretend to be the head of their business so they can get their feet in the door of the biggest real estate and banking business empires in town.

Anthony Mackie and Nicholas Hoult look To build wealth in “The Banker”. (Photo courtesy of Apple TV)

The first half of the film focuses on Garrett’s rise, culminating in a witty and clever plot to overtake the biggest building in L.A.: the home of the bank that refuses to see him.

Much like Garrett, Steiner comes from humble beginnings and as the white face of a black-owned business quickly adapts to the world of finance. His ambitions, though, become the entire operation’s downfall. 

Things go well until they catch the attention of the federal government, which accuses them of fraud.

The three leads carry this compelling real-life drama. Mackie puts his soul into portraying Garrett, drawing on his own plight and success. Samuel L. Jackson gets by on charisma alone, but makes a good wingman for Mackie without upstaging him.

“The Banker” stars Anthony Mackie as Bernard Garrett, in one of the strongest performances of his career. (Photo courtesy of Apple TV)

The film loses direction when the action shifts back to Texas. Unsatisfied by dominating the real estate scene in Los Angeles, Garrett wants to take over banks that don’t lend to black people in his hometown.

The move proves to be too much for Garrett to handle, becoming a story within the story.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968, which banned discrimination in selling and renting real estate, is mentioned, but not explained in enough detail considering its importance in the story’s arc.

And the film’s second act includes a distracting shift in tone as the capitalist pursuit of wealth becomes a self-righteous chase for social justice. As Garrett’s character develops, the script establishes he is too smart for the mistakes he made. Pride becomes his enemy, and the Act II changes nearly knock the film off track.

Fortunately, “The Banker” overcomes adversity by not letting its faults overshadow its strengths: sharp costume design, crisp cinematography, great set design and stellar acting. 

Business and finance majors will have a ball with this story, which show the importance of capitalism and wealth management with strong storytelling and conviction. The cast carries the compelling real-life drama, which illustrates—and could inspire lower- and middle-class viewers to think about—the power of wealth and how to obtain it.

One of the most provocative films of the early film season, “The Banker” is a perfect pick for the age of quarantine entertainment. It’s currently available on the Apple+ streaming service.

See or Skip: If you ever want the motivation to look at your life and do better, this is the film for you.