Story of football player falsely imprisoned for crime he didn't commit held back by storytelling miscues

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The true story of a man's false imprisonment and eventual exoneration is dramatized in "Brian Banks," a well-intentioned film crippled by its dramatic structure. 

Aldis Hodge (MC Ren in "Straight Outta Compton") plays Banks, a top football prospect headed to USC, whose career is sidelined when, at 16, he is falsely accused of rape.  

Banks spends six years in jail and another three years on parole until he contacts Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear), head of the California Innocence Project, who is dedicated to overturning unjust convictions.

Brooks decides to take Banks' case, but it's on Banks to provide the evidence that is going to grant them a new day in court. Banks gets his accuser to recant her statement on tape, although the circumstances under which the confession is obtained render it inadmissible.

And so on. "Brian Banks" becomes a series of mounting legal hurdles, as much a study of the justice system and its complications as it is a story about a man's quest to prove his innocence and get back what was unjustly taken for him.

Director Tom Shadyac ("Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "Liar Liar") provides a sanitized version of Banks' story that has the feel of an educational film or a PSA. That layer of artifice detracts from the emotional gut punch of Banks' reality, which doesn't resonate the way it should. 

Or the way it could, if told in a bare bones, raw documentary style. Hodge — asked to play Banks from age 16 to 27 — can only do so much, and what's missing from this story is Banks himself. His story is extraordinary, but it would be better coming from him, in his voice.    

'Brian Banks'

GRADE: C+

Rated PG-13: for thematic content and related images, and for language

Running time: 99 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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