The Banker spotlights American inequality

Two entrepreneurs devise scheme to get loans to black people during pre-civil rights days

Samuel L. Jackson, right, and Anthony Mackie. (Photo: IMDB.com)

Race and inequality. The division between blacks and whites is one of the social issues that have been highlighted by the film industry for so long. The Banker -- the first feature film from Apple TV+ starring Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson -- also captures the topic. It focuses especially on discrimination in financial service.

The film is set during the 1950s and 1960s in Texas and California in pre-civil rights America, a period of time when black people had little chance of obtaining business loans from banks. The story was based on true events of Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie), an African-American businessman. Bernard hustled odd jobs as a child, learning to never take "no" for an answer, eventually becoming a property developer of some means, achieving a small role in the American dream.

Some critics said the director George Nolfi wanted to portray Bernard as a revolutionary who brought the topic of financial discrimination into the spotlight, but others believed that Bernard did what he did for himself. Regardless of those viewpoints, the two-hour movie is clearly a dramedy and can keep you engaged until the end.

The film starts with the young Bernard in Texas who later moves to California with his wife Eunice (Nia Long). He believes that he can make a fortune in Los Angeles, but reality kicks in quickly after he is denied a loan from a bank to buy a decent house. He turns to the property owner Patrick Barker, starring Colm Meaney, for the mortgage.

The story becomes richer after Bernard approaches Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) to be his business partner. It is no doubt that Mackie was very good in his role as Bernard and then Jackson shows up with his star power, adding more panache to the movie. He made Joe's character appealing. Joe is a wealthy black businessman who owns two nightclubs. He is funny, cunning, confident and has an image of pragmatic power while Bernard is very good at numbers, intelligent but reserved and serious. The two actors balance each other nicely.

Together they find a way to beat discriminatory banking practices. They hire a white man, Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), as a front to represent their deals. He is intensively trained by both Bernard and Joe to act like a real estate investor while the impresarios serve as a chauffeur and janitor to monitor the negotiations.

Then capitalism runs its course. The property business goes well. They manage to buy and resell homes to upper-middle-class black families in white neighbourhoods. Then comes the movie's climax. Bernard wants to take his success back home in Texas. He wants to own a bank in order to give loans directly to black people. He wants them to have an opportunity like him.

Shortly after the bank acquisition, Matt, the white frontman, wants to have a business of his own. He is eager to be successful like his mentors. However, he is young, inexperienced and reckless, and imperils the fortune Bernard and Joe have built.

The Banker unfolds the history of American inequality and racist banking practices. Bernard and Matt, both visionaries, seem to be ahead of their time. With minimal violence and sex scenes, the film can be an inspiration for those facing tough times.

  • The Banker
  • Starring Nicholas Hoult, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie
  • Directed by George Nolfi
  • Now streaming on Apple TV+