Brian Banks at the Long Beach screening of a movie based on his unsought collision with the criminal justice system. Photo by C.E.H. Wiedel.

At several points in the movie Brian Banks, one or another character says in frustration or defiance (or defiant frustration), “F**k the system!”

At no point is that sentiment uncalled for.

Mr. Banks was on hand for a special screening of Bleeker Street’s new movie based on his unsought collision with the criminal justice system beginning with a 2002 (unfounded) accusation of rape by a classmate at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach.

He was sixteen. He was charged with kidnapping, rape, and sodomy. In juvenile detention awaiting trial, he met Jerome Johnson, a teacher who managed to get through his wall of resentment and anger (not immediately, but eventually). Charged and jailed as a juvenile, Banks was “tried” as an adult.

On the advice of his lawyer, he pleaded no contest to one of the charges, expecting to be put on probation. He was sentenced to six years in jail.

The movie opens after his release from jail to probation. With explanatory flashbacks, we watch his fight not merely to get to the end of probation but to claim exoneration. He is played in the movie by Aldis Hodge, who does a good job expressing emotion from flabbergasted innocence to outraged disbelief to smoldering determination to hesitant caring outreach. He is also believable inhabiting the physicality of the role — pushups, bench pressing, crunches — flat-footed jumps onto stacked boxes left me slack-jawed. Plus he projected the smarts needed to, for instance, submit a writ of habeus corpus on his own that impressed his future defense team and the District Attorney.

Mr. Banks is an altogether admirable person.

Three villians are hissable: his accuser, Kennisha Rice (not her real name); Kennisha’s mother; and that defense attorney giving out bad advice. It must be said that Kennisha as well acted by Xosha Roquemore seems more than a bit slow on understanding… just about everything. Her mother comes across as contemptible. The attorney seems shortsighted and casually bigoted in her assessment of pre-judgement on the part of white jurors.

Heroes of the story in addition to Mr. Banks include his mother, Leomia, who never doubted her son; Karina, a physical trainer who became much more; and the entire crew at the California Innocence Project headed up by Justin Brooks (played by Greg Kinnear).

Fontaine de la Justice in Cudrefin. Photo by Roland Zumbuehl.

Scooped up by a criminal justice system more than once characterized accurately as uncaring, Brian Banks defied expectations.

To give away the ending — spoiler alert! — he gets exonerated.

But a mild defense of that effing criminal justice system is called for. “Justice” is depicted as blind because it should treat all comers the same — in the case of Brian Banks, it treated him badly, but no worse than many others. (That should give each one of us pause to ponder how admirably we would survive a collision with the criminal justice system.)

Mr. Banks effed the system. We should all be grateful, because his story lights up the limits of unreflective reliance on procedure. The system must be blind, but those who work within the system must not be blind.

CIP summarizes the case history of Brian Banks:

County of Conviction: Los Angeles

Convicted of: Rape

Sentence: 6 Years + Lifetime Registered Sex Offender

Years Served: 5 Years, 2 Months

Exonerated: May 24, 2012

Cost of Wrongful Incarceration: $406,015

The “Cost of Wrongful Incarceration” is the cost to the State of California, not the opportunity cost to Brian Banks — which is likely impossible to calculate.

The movie opens nationwide on August 9. I recommend it.

Trailer for Brian Banks

60 Minutes segment on Brian Banks