Film Review: Breaking
Director: Abi Damaris Corbin
In Theaters 08.26
Racial inequality, PTSD, gun violence and America’s long history of failing to take care of the people who enlist in its military make for a weighty set of topics for any one movie to handle. Breaking, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2022 under the title 892, has difficulty juggling so many balls, but it never lets one hit the ground.
Breaking is based on the tragic true story of Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), a Black veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who is denied a disability support claim for $892 from Veterans Affairs. Brian is in dire financial distress, and finds that he is rapidly running out of options. He takes the drastic step of walking into a Wells Fargo bank branch in Atlanta, brandishing a gun and taking several of its employees hostage, including manager Estel Valerie (Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth) and Rosa (Selenis Leyva, Orange is the New Black). Brian hopes to force some sort of action from Veterans Affairs and to bring the injustice of his situation into the public eye by calling a journalist, Lisa Larson (Connie Britton). As a tense standoff with the police inevitably builds to a boiling point, Brian and his captives start to form an uneasy bond.
Director Abi Damaris Corbin (The Suitcase) owes a lot to other films, in particular Sidney Lumet’s 1975 classic Dog Day Afternoon, though certainly Breaking has an added layer of relevance and urgency to it in today’s climate, simply because in this case, the race of the bank robber becomes an instant factor in the eyes of everyone looking on—and for Brian himself. The hard, sickening truth that Brian’s odds of getting out of this alive are significantly reduced based on his skin color hangs over every moment of Boyega, Baharrie and Leyva’s intensely committed and compassionate performances. Boyega’s smoldering intensity mixed with an ever-present sympathetic sense of humanity and decency make Brian one of this year’s most engaging protagonists, and while he’s chosen the wrong course of action, it’s motivated by sheer desperation, and he’s truly not out to hurt anyone.
Beharrie has been a personal favorite since 42 and the FOX series Sleepy Hollow, and the gauntlet of emotions and moral quandaries her character Estel is put through while remaining composed and professional out of sheer necessity is a riveting thing to watch. The late Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) gives a powerful final performance as Eli Bernard, the policeman in charge of negotiating with Brian. Breaking ultimately belongs to Boyega, a powerhouse actor who could be one of the giants of this century if he is allowed to step out of the shadow of Star Wars. The screenplay for Breaking, written by Corbin and actor/playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, has plenty of crisp and compelling dialogue and is well structured, if formulaic, but Breaking often had a hard time making me feel like I hadn’t seen all of this in some form before. While Breaking works as a thriller, the lack of a clear endgame to Brian’s rash and ill conceived plan makes it all too obvious that the situation can’t lead to a happy ending, yet I found myself glued to the screen by the power of the actors’ performances.
Breaking falls short of a modern classic, yet it remains an involving film that touches on plenty of pertinent issues of the day, working enough as both a character drama and a thriller to make it well worth your time. Breaking is easily my pick for the best new film opening this weekend. –Patrick Gibbs