Synopsis: When Marine Veteran Brian Brown-Easley is denied support from Veterans Affairs, financially desperate and running out of options, he takes a bank and several of its employees hostage, setting the stage for a tense confrontation with the police.
Stars: John Boyega, Michael Kenneth Williams, Nicole Beharie, Connie Britton, Olivia Washington, Selenis Leyva
Director: Abi Damaris Corbin
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: When an actor becomes so well associated with an established franchise, it can be challenging to break away and create an independent track of their own. Audiences are so used to finding one thing they like and sticking with it that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for actors to shed those preconceived ideas of their range even before they try to expand it. Daniel Radcliffe, Robert Pattinson, and Kristen Stewart are great examples of actors who have starred in movies with loyal fan bases yet have found ample work outside their franchise safety nets because they’ve chosen projects wisely. One could argue that Tom Holland represents the opposite end, a star that excels in his one lane but struggles to free himself of these confines when he tries something new.
First gaining attention in 2015 with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Boyega has had several opportunities to travel outside the galaxy of this established entity but hasn’t quite landed the proper role to date. Supporting roles in 2017’s Detroit and 2018’s Pacific Rim: Uprising were fine distractions between the final two Star Wars films but never afforded Boyega the leading man role he was ultimately after. After seven years, Boyega now has a significant part to tag on his resume, and the wait was worth it. Tackling a real-life story ripped from recent headlines, Breaking is a mighty movie boasting all-in performances from its talented cast.
Former Marine Brian Brown-Easley (Boyega) has recently disputed with the VA over his disability check, which he depends on to pay his rent. He also made promises to his young daughter, who lives with his ex-wife (Olivia Washington, The Little Things), and has other daily life costs to consider. The $850 he is owed might not seem like a lot to the VA, but it makes all the difference to Brian. That’s how he winds up walking into the Atlanta Wells Fargo Bank and slips a note to Rosa (Selenis Leyva, The Place Beyond the Pines) telling her he has a bomb. He doesn’t want any of the bank’s money, he only wants the VA to return the money they took, and the matter will be solved.
Holding Rosa and bank manager Estel (Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth) hostage as swarms of police gather outside, Brian calls the local news station to ensure his story is told. Talking to a reporter (Connie Britton, Promising Young Woman) and a hostage negotiator (Michael Kenneth Williams, Assassin’s Creed), Brian’s story comes out in pieces, and everyone learns more about the man behind the threats. Rosa and Estel understand Brian’s plight but also see the tensions rising around them. They work to diffuse a rapidly escalating standoff while tactical teams unfamiliar with the human behind the crime take their stations.
Director Abi Damaris Corbin has much responsibility with Breaking in telling the story of Brian Brown-Easley. What happened on that day in the Wells Fargo Bank and what led up to that event. Some eyewitness accounts are used, but the information is culled from those who knew Brian and could speak to the man he was before that fateful day. Corbin has a good partner in her leading man, providing Boyega a grand stage to do powerful work that calls to mind a young Denzel Washington. There’s a depth to the work and burrowing into the mind of Brian that is hard to achieve, but Boyega goes for it and succeeds with compassion and confidence.
A trio of terrific supporting performances aids Boyega throughout. I was so used to Levya playing a scheming prison inmate in Orange is the New Black; watching her be so vulnerable as a shell-shocked bank teller was a fantastic eye-opener. You’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t seen (and liked) Beharie in some movie or television show over the last decade, and she doesn’t fail to cultivate more emotional sincerity here, either. For his final film role, the late Williams (who passed away in September 2021) is as on target as ever, sliding right into his hostage negotiator role and attempting to buddy up with Brian without coming on too strong. Williams was always a highlight of any project he worked on, and that’s the case here.
While reminiscent of Dog Day Afternoon, Breaking perhaps can’t sustain its energy as well as that earlier film. Even at 100 minutes, the movie does get a little saggy in the middle and starts to drag as it tries to pick up steam into its devastating final act. That’s too bad because it starts with such fire and purpose, but when it begins to circle back on itself and become repetitive, you know something is off in the narrative editing. It’s ultimately worth it for the performances and story being told and to witness Boyega getting the level up he’s been looking for – he’s earned it.