Breaking (2022)

103 min. Director: Abi Damaris Corbin. Cast: Michael Kenneth Williams, Nicole Beharie, Jeffrey Donovan, John Boyega, Selenis Leyva, Connie Britton.


Based on a true story—as recounted in Aaron Gell's 2018 Task & Purpose article "They Didn't Have to Kill Him"—Abi Damaris Corbin's feature debut Breaking serves as a low-key character study and an actor’s showcase for John Boyega. Boyega transforms himself into 33-year-old ex-Marine Brian Brown-Easley, a mentally troubled war veteran who, in 2017, walked into a Wells Fargo bank branch in the Atlanta suburbs and presented a note reading, "I have a bomb." What follows is a more-or-less standard issue hostage drama, with the late, great Michael Kenneth Williams in his penultimate role of a hostage negotiator.

When characters are under peak pressure, Corbin places them in the center of the frame, fostering a sense that the world is closing in around them from all sides. Corbin and co-writer Kwame Kwei-Armah's script establishes how isolated and under pressure Brown-Easley has become, pushed to his "breaking" point by the unforgivably careless treatment he received from the V.A. and the financial hardship that has pushed him to the very brink of an unhoused existence. All that remains in this world for this fatalistic shadow of a man are his young daughter (London Covington) and his ex-wife (Olivia Washington) as he alternates between tenderness and volatility, the latter triggered by what appears to be intermittent schizophrenia.

Despite it all, Brown-Easley unfailingly calls women “ma’am” and men “sir," his politesse a character trait culled from Gell's article. Though Breaking does enhance the natural tension of the situation to perk up the plot, in its main thrust, the film stays true to the real-life situation, with a minimum of fuss. Michael Abels' melancholy string-based score adds value, and the cast—including Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva as the bank-employee hostages, Connie Britton as a sympathetic TV-news reporter, and Jeffrey Donovan as an unsympathetic cop—proves uniformly excellent. The picture is lean and well-edited (by Chris Witt), with short, sharp ruthlessly efficient flashbacks. It's too bad there isn't more meat on the bone here, but Boyega's work alone is enough of a draw to make Breaking worth watching.