Following on the heels of his impressive turn in Steve McQueen’s Red, White and Blue, John Boyega does noble work in Breaking, directed by Abi Damaris Corbin. Boyega stars as Brian Brown-Easley, the 33-year-old Marine veteran who held a bank hostage in order to get a disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs he was owed. The amount was eight-hundred and ninety-two dollars.

Scripted by Abi Damaris Corbin & Kwame Kwei-Armah’s screenplay, based on the real-life event that took place in the summer of 2017, Breaking recalls plenty of hostage films from years past while attempting to separate itself by acknowledging humanity of its hostage-taker. In this way is it incredibly easy to recall something like Dog Day Afternoon. Boyega is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast. Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva are quite extraordinary as the two bank employees Brown-Easley takes hostage. In smaller parts, Connie Britton, Olivia Washington, and the late, great Michael K. Williams excel as well.

The film opens briskly (a welcome decision), establishing the dire circumstances that have led to this apocalyptic decision. Within minutes, he’s told the Wells Fargo bank teller (Leyva) that he’s got a bomb and asks that she call the police. Within this first act are some darkly funny moments, including a couple of references to the “X-Men” and Boyega answering the bank phone to take a message from a woman with a question about her 401k. This is an unwaveringly polite man, constantly apologizing to his hostages for taking them hostage and immediately following up his frustrated reactions with humble rationalizations.

This is crucial story, without question. What this country asked of Brian Brown-Easley and what this country gave him back in return is a scandal in and of itself. We are given brief flashbacks to the Kafka-esque trials he was forced to go through at the Veteran Affairs office, only to not receive a disability check through no fault of his own. In one of the choppier scenes in the picture, Connie Britton’s local newswoman is contacted by the VA employee who explains how Brown-Easley got screwed.

The issue, then, is that Breaking lacks a certain sense of urgency as a piece of entertainment. Too often does it lag. Too often are the stakes of the situation repeated by one character or another while the plot does not move forward in any substantial way. Too often does the camera appear to be in the wrong place. Either too close to the action or too far away. Michael K. Williams finally emerges as the hostage negotiator, anchoring the film with his indelible sense of gravitas. Through him do we get a glimpse of the inherent prejudice within the operational procedure of the local police on sight. Jeffrey Donovan deserves some credit in this regard, perfectly personifying this not-so-subdued racism in only a handful of scenes.

Despite some narrative and aesthetic reservations, there is an edge and an engagement throughout that make Breaking worth a recommendation. Abi Damaris Corbin and John Boyega have done solid work in bringing Brian Brown-Easley’s tragic end to the masses.

Breaking premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Grade: B-

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