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Film Review: “Breaking” Showcases a Riveting Boyega

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 25th, 2022

Film poster: “Breaking”

Breaking (Abi Damaris Corbin, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars. 

Based on a real-life 2017 bank holdup near Atlanta, Georgia, Breaking (formerly known as 892) gives actor John Boyega (Naked Singularity) a juicy role as Brian Brown Easley, a former marine who, out of desperation over how Veterans Affairs holds up his disability check, engages in a reckless act. It’s all meant to draw attention to his plight, since he will be homeless without the money and doesn’t think it right that his service should count for so little. Things quickly spiral out of control, however, and—spoiler alert—the risky move ends in tragedy.

Nicole Beharie (Miss Juneteenth) co-stars as Estel, the bank manager, alongside Selenis Leyva (Gloria Mendoza on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black series) as Rosa, an employee. They’re the only two people left in the bank after Brian allows everyone else to leave. He needs a few hostages to make his point but is not out for blood.

l-r: Selenis Leyva and John Boyega in BREAKING ©Bleecker Street Media

Joining the cast are the late Michael Kenneth Williams (HBO’s Lovecraft Country series)—in one of his final roles, as the hostage negotiator—and Connie Britton (Joe Bell) as a local TV journalist whom Brian contacts for coverage. The film presents the complexities of the issues in an engaging, tension-filled drama that is, by its sad conclusion, deeply poignant. The ensemble does their part to elevate the cinematic stakes in a satisfying manner.

Director Abi Damaris Corbin, making her solo-feature debut, keeps things moving along with her mostly gripping mise-en-scène, even when the script she co-wrote with playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah descends into occasionally unfortunate exposition. It’s difficult to make a chamber piece like this work without such dialogue, but here fewer polemics would more sensibly serve the story.

Michael Kenneth Williams in BREAKING ©Bleecker Street Media

Nevertheless, there is one main reason to watch this, and that is Boyega, who holds the viewer’s attention, throughout. The narrative is also an important one for our time, highlighting how little sympathy a society feels towards those in need, even if they have served their country. Veterans deserve honor, not poverty. And if they suffer from mental illness, as does Brian, they deserve even more.

A word about the title: “892” refers to the amount of the check that has disappeared. It might indeed seem, to a distributor, like something too oblique to draw audiences in, but is “Breaking” really the answer? At least “892” ultimately makes perfect sense and differentiates itself by its initial mystery. “Breaking” is as generic as they come, and this movie merits, as does Brian, a better fate.

Nicole Beharie in BREAKING ©Bleecker Street Media
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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