Directed by: Abi Damaris Corbin
Premise: Based on true events. A military veteran (John Boyega) holds up a bank and keeps two employees hostage while demanding that the Department of Veterans Affairs repay wages that they improperly withheld from him.
What Works: Breaking has some stellar performances from its core cast. John Boyega plays Brian Brown-Easley, a military veteran who was nearly homeless and possibly suffering from mental illness when he held up a bank and threatened to detonate a bomb. This man just wanted society to do right by him and Boyega portrays Brown-Easley with dignity and desperation. He takes two bank employees hostage, played by Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva. Each woman’s reaction to their predicament reveals their temperament and Beharie and Leyva distinguish their characters. The extent to which Breaking succeeds as a thriller is largely due to Boyega, Beharie, and Leyva’s performances. They are in the moment and their anxiety keeps up the tension. Breaking also includes a supporting role by Michael Kenneth Williams as the hostage negotiator and Williams brings a lot of inner life to an underwritten role.
What Doesn’t: There is a formula for this kind of hostage crisis movie as seen in Dog Day Afternoon, John Q, and Money Monster. Breaking includes all the pieces familiar to this genre but presents them perfunctorily. Boyega’s character has a legitimate grievance with the VA but we don’t have much sense of how he was driven to this point. A film like this has a rhetorical agenda, putting us on the hostage taker’s side and making a socio-political point through the drama. Breaking hints at the way the United States’ government has failed so many of its veterans but the filmmakers don’t make that case very strongly. Attempts to add exposition detract from the narrative and tend to stop the dramatic momentum. Breaking includes the requisite supporting characters such as the local television news reporter, the empathetic hostage negotiator, and the trigger-happy law enforcement officers but all of these characters are underwritten. Better movies of this kind bring together various social institutions to create a microcosm of society. Breaking does not accomplish that. We don’t get much of a sense of the relationships between these groups and the characterization is mostly superficial. By the end of Breaking there is little sense that anything meaningful has been dramatized.
Bottom Line: Breaking has some great performances and it is worth viewing for the efforts of John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, and Selenis Leyva. As a hostage drama it’s a by-the-numbers affair and an issue thriller Breaking doesn’t make its case very effectively.
Episode: #916 (September 4, 2022)