September 20, 2022 / levelFILM
Starring: John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva
Directed By: Abi Damaris Corbin
A Marine war veteran faces mental and emotional challenges when he tries to reintegrate into civilian life.
Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
Breaking is emotionally charged, bringing a true story to the screen that is certain to spark debate amongst viewers at the injustices portrayed on screen, all held together by a great performance from John Boyega.
Veterans give themselves to protect their country, but when they return home, there is not a system in place to fully support them. And while it may help some of them, there are veterans that are dropped through the cracks of the system and find themselves alone and unsupported in the world. This is the issue that is explored in the latest film from writer director Abi Damaris Corbin, who tells the real life story of army veteran Brian Brown-Easley, a veteran in financial distress and facing the prospect of becoming homeless. To try and fix his situation, Brian takes a Wells Fargo bank hostage, threatening to blow it up unless he is paid the money he is owed by Veterans Administration.
What ensues is an emotionally charged portrayal of Brian’s struggles as he fights for what he is owed, within a system that fails to see him as a human or address the hurt it has inflicted on him. The screenplay takes its time to reveal the injustice that Brian has faced that has led him to threaten to blow up the bank, and paints a picture of the injustice of the system Brian finds himself in. Each character that crosses Brian’s path informs the discussion the screenplay generates, whether it be the two bank employees who have an undeniable sympathy for his situation despite being terrified for their lives, the negotiator trying to do right by Brian understanding his struggle being a veteran himself, or the police officers who refuse to see Brian as a hurting individual and will take any opportunity they have to put him down.
Both writing the screenplay and behind the camera, Corbin crafts a film that highlights the issues faced by veterans through a portrayal of Brian’s final day, resulting in a gripping film that has you wringing your hands in anguish as the extent of the injustice Brian has been dealt is uncovered. Watching the film, you know as a viewer that there is no way that Brian is going to survive the events of the film given his circumstances, which just makes you sick to your stomach and allows the film’s message to be that much more powerful.
But, it is John Boyega who makes the film the emotional rollercoaster it is. As Brian, Boyega commands your attention and carries the film on his shoulders from start to finish. He makes Brian truly sympathetic, ensuring that the audience is with Brian every step of the way regardless of what Brian’s actions are. Even when threatening to blow up the bank in bursts of anger, Boyega makes you feel sorrow for Brian as you can see the emotional anguish in his performance that has driven Brian to this breaking point. It is nothing short of a superb performance that allows Boyega to display his incredible talent as an actor, more so than any role Boyega has previously had to date.
Beyond Boyega, the film has an outstanding supporting cast that make up an excellent ensemble of performances. The late Michael Kenneth Williams is great as the police negotiator Eli Bernard. Williams brings a quiet intensity to the film as he tries to find common ground with Brian, making it his mission to help this man who feels like he has no alternatives to set his life right. Williams and Boyega make an excellent pairing, showcasing what a talent Williams was and reminds you what a wonderful talent we have lost far too soon. Nicole Beharie is wonderful as the bank manager Estel, delivering an emotionally complex performance as she shows true sympathy and care for Brian and his situation, while grappling with the reality that she may not ever see her son again.
Rounding out the cast is Connie Britton, Jeffrey Donovan, Selenis Leyva, and Olivia Washington, who all deliver memorable performances. It’s no surprise that this film won a jury award at Sundance for Best Ensemble cast, because every cast member gives an incredible performance and never for a second wastes a moment of screen time and brings this powerful and important true story to the screen. Whether it be the riveting performance from John Boyega that is truly a career best of his or the brilliant writing and direction from Abi Damaris Corbin, Breaking is a gem of a film that is emotionally powerful and a must watch for all viewers.