Those outside the US might not be aware of the story of Brian Easley, a veteran who held up a bank in a desperte plea to get $864 he’s owed in unpaid benefits. Whether you’re familiar or not, Abi Damaris Corbin’s thriller movie Breaking, starring John Boyega is a well-meaning look at Easley’s situation, recounting his attempted bombing, as well as the injustices that plagued him.
Boyega plays Brian, who we find downtrodden after a heated exchange with local services. He’s staying in a motel in the movie based on a true story, explaining to his young daughter over the phone that he isn’t coming home for the time-being.
This is because he’s about to go into a branch of Wells Fargo and make out he has a bomb, holding staff hostage until he’s given the check that’s rightfully his. The move gets him plenty of attention, but he struggles to maintain control.
The drama movie stays close to Brian, mostly following him and his two captives in the building. Despite his fierce, justified anger, he tries to be polite and patient to the tellers he’s dragged into this. They try to offer him money from their system, but this is about principle, not fortune. Brian wants what was promised, what he deserves, and nothing more.
Someone who has plenty of sympathy is Eli, a negotiator brought in to talk Brian down, portrayed by Michael K Williams. Eli comes from a similar background as Brian, building a connection through genuine understanding.
Their conversations suggest the story might find a good outcome, one where justice is served appropriately. But that’s not how the system is built, and Brian’s mental state plus the desire for authorities to neutralise the threat gradually push towards the inevitable.
Some dissonance lies between Damaris Corbin’s filmmaking, and the performances. The direction and screenplay, co-written by Damaris Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah, maintain a wholly sympathetic view on what’s happening.
That’s not to suggest anyone should think otherwise about these events, but Boyega summons a more complex understanding in his portrait of Brian. This man is furious, absolutely worn out by the constant waiting and patronising appointments, and feeling like he has to beg just to be treated properly by the country he served under.
One can acknowledge the severity of this injustice, and be discomforted by the violence he attempts. Boyega brings both sides to the fore in his seething frustrating and pained cries, answered by Williams, who provides a bedrock of empathy and clarity. Eli works hard to earn Brian’s trust, trying to get him a packet of cigarettes as if lives are on the line, because they are.
Local news gets on the scene quickly too, Connie Britton appearing as correspondent Lisa Larson. There’s a sense she cares, but whether or not that’s real is somewhat besides the point, because the media’s reporting is coming altogether too late. Memories show us Brian being escorted away the last time he tried to do this properly, and so Breaking feels like one long third act.
Even if you don’t know the headline, you can imagine where it’s all going from the jump. A hard watch though it can be, you’ll feel better for giving it the time.
Breaking is available on digital in the UK March 27. For more from Boyega, dive into our guide to the Star Wars cast, or look ahead to new movies coming up.
John Boyega and Michael K Williams bring depth to a heartfelt suspense movie.