‘Breaking’ could test your patience, but this distressing, depressing story is an important one.

“Breaking” (2022) – Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega) is fed up.

He’s had enough.

He’s at his breaking point.

Brian’s story is a true one.

“I was flabbergasted that I hadn’t read or heard about Brian’s story when it happened,” director Abi Damaris Corbin said in a Jan. 31, 2022 interview with Collider Interviews.

Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah wrote the screenplay for “Breaking”, a cautionary tale about an injustice that drove a man to an irrational brink, a razor’s edge in the center of an Atlanta Wells Fargo bank in 2017. 

“Breaking” is a messy account, and over 103 minutes, Corbin’s film will cause frustration and impatience for its audience.  That’s by design.  However, the movie’s awfully sluggish pacing hampers the cinematic experience.  Spouts of momentum are frequently stalled by random cutaways and quiet moments of isolation that pull away our attention. 

On the other hand, empathy is a feeling that comes to mind when watching this distressing, depressing tale.  Corbin’s altruistic efforts and Nicole Beharie’s, Selenis Leyva’s, Michael Kenneth Williams’ (who passed away last year), and Boyega’s strong performances are enough to make a worthy withdrawal from your savings to see this movie.

(Speaking of performances, “Breaking” won the Best Ensemble Cast award at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival under the movie’s original title, “892”.)

Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega)

Brian, a 33-year-old U.S. Marine veteran, is desperate and out of reasonable options.  He no longer lives with his wife (Olivia Washington) and young daughter (London Covington).  Instead, our lead lodges at a cheap motel but still can’t afford its daily-rate pittance.  The government redirects Brian’s disability checks towards another debt he claims is not legit.  He’s broke and tells a Veterans Affairs employee that he won’t be able to feed himself.  With the system continually shunning his requests (that turn to pleas), Brian walks into a Wells Fargo Bank – on an otherwise ordinary day – claims that he has a bomb, and takes hostages. 

The man wants money from the VA that he believes is rightfully his, but Brian’s method of collecting this particular debt does not align with success. 

It’s a self-destructive suicide mission.

Boyega effectively portrays Brown-Easley as a conflicted soul with rage fracturing his gentle, courteous foundation.  For most of his stay at the bank, Brian treats hostages Estel Valerie (Beharie) and Rosa Diaz (Leyva) with polite discourse and respect.  The man displays a potential history of responding to women with, “Yes, Ma’am,” for three decades, but on this day, he occasionally erupts with intimating verbal wrath.  These outbursts aren’t directed at the frightened females but towards the state of his world, his current predicament. 

Estel Valerie (Nicole Beharie)

The film’s events primarily occur within the aforementioned Wells Fargo. Brian keeps just two captives, and this story isn’t teeming with traditional drama that one would expect in a bank robbery movie.  Instead, the vibes are intimate and sometimes sedate between the three individuals, and two – Estel and Rosa – pseudo-garner Stockholm Syndrome.  Not because they feel safe. The women don’t, but they hold sympathy for Brian’s plight.

The problem is some unexpected stretches of downtime and the recurrent respectful exchanges between Brian and the two employees dial down the film’s tension.  Even though Estel and Rosa are scared, their fear barely assigned itself to this critic.  The bottom line?  I absolutely felt their empathy, but not their angst.  Admittedly, women might have an altogether different reaction to these on-screen happenings.

Anyway, back to Brian’s original predicament and the one that he creates for himself.  In addition to his desperate need for financial solvency, he intends to attract massive attention, but that comes at a dangerous price because seemingly every single Atlanta police officer encircles this financial institution, and armaments everywhere point in his direction.

While low-key movements occur inside the bank, massive bedlam morphs outside as law enforcement and media encompass the bank like wolves and vultures approach their prey.  Various police departments want a quick resolution with no innocent lives hurt.  Brian is their sole adversary, and lethal means of addressing him are immediately preferred.

The striking dichotomy between calm and chaos flushes to the big screen with Corbin’s frequent volleys between the events on either side of the Wells Fargo walls.  Brian felt helpless before this specific day, but he encounters continual exasperation while attempting to earn satisfaction.  Most of the interior happenings are civil, but armies of militia facing the bank’s exterior seem disorganized and mob-like.  

Eli Bernard (Michael Kenneth Williams)

Hostage negotiator Eli Bernard (Williams) lands on the scene, and he appears to be the only voice of reason within the multitudes of S.W.A.T. vehicles and snipers that spin, loop, zig, and zag in all directions.

Bernard asks a fellow officer about sniper units, and she responds, “Three units, as I understand, but there’s a lot going on.”

And how.

Meanwhile, Lisa Larson (Connie Britton), a television station producer, speaks with Brian on the phone for inordinate amounts of time, but she’s about as useful as a pencil without lead, a car without tires, a laptop without a CPU, or choose another analogy.  Indeed, the media has taken a beating for decades, but Ms. Larson might be the public’s new punching bag, as she’s a glaring abundance of ineptitude, or perhaps, her actions are entirely purposeful.

Brian’s story may be best symbolized in “Breaking” when Eli answers the vet’s request for a pack of cigarettes, which the negotiator fulfills straight away at a nearby convenience store, but the clerk doesn’t have matches.  Neither do any of the officers…to Eli’s dismay, as he asks everyone in sight. 

No matches.  No light.  Eli is frustrated, and we are too.

⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: Abi Damaris Corbin

Written by: Abi Damaris Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah

Starring: John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, and Michael Kenneth Williams

Runtime: 103 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Image credits: Bleecker Street

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