The Movie Waffler Glasgow Film Festival 2023 Review - BREAKING | The Movie Waffler

Glasgow Film Festival 2023 Review - BREAKING

Breaking review
A disgruntled military veteran holds a bank hostage.

Review by Blair MacBride

Directed by: Abi Damaris Corbin

Starring: John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, Michael Kenneth Williams

Breaking poster

Another screening from GFF and yet another very strong UK premiere - the 2023 festival programme is truly one to remember. This time round it's Breaking (originally titled '892'), an edge of your seat, true story thriller featuring John Boyega and the late great Michael Kenneth Williams.

Dramatised from the real life 2017 events, Brian Brown Easley (Boyega) is struggling beyond words. A disabled American war veteran, he finds himself on the brink of homelessness after the US Government Department for Veterans Affairs (commonly known as the VA) refuses to pay his latest disability cheque; this is a result of the ex-marine having apparently accrued "debt" that needs to be cleared. Interacting with his daughter, Kiah (London Covington), gives Easley temporary relief from a justifiably angry existence. At his wits end though, the wrongly abandoned former soldier walks into a Wells Fargo bank and holds it up, threatening to blow up a bomb unless he gets the meager but significant $892 he's owed and the attention he demands to cases like his.

Breaking review

Needing a decent bargaining chip to acquire his money and secure his life, he allows all but two people to leave the bank - the bank manager Estel (Nicole Beharie) and terrified teller Rosa (Selenis Leyva) remain. There is no question that Easley is sadly unstable. What unfolds next, however, is perhaps the most polite, respectfully conducted hostage situation to ever occur in cinema due to Easley's nature and modest demands. He doesn't want to kill anyone; he simply wants to be heard, understood and supported in the way in which he already should have been.

The coverage from media outlets begins to build and a law enforcement task force sets up a base outside the bank to create a plan to end the crisis. Enter chief police negotiator Sergeant Bernard (Williams), who begins communication with Easley in an attempt to bring about a much needed resolution to both the situation at hand and his own tragic circumstances.

Breaking review

Breaking is a testament to its director's determination to tell this true tale. Abi Damaris Corbin - who also co-writes this gripping script with Kwami Kwei-Armah - delivers a starkly harrowing feature debut. Having commented that she herself has a personal connection to the instance of a veteran being mistreated by the state (her father had issues with the VA too), Corbin excels at showcasing such a powerful adaptation of Easley's story. She builds a really striking narrative that pulls on many emotions, and truly has to be commended for shedding light on an awfully sad individual plight that transcends specific occurrences and highlights the larger negligence of consecutive US governments to support their discharged military.

Speaking of commendation, Breaking is an acting showcase of the highest order. In what is hands down his best performance to date, Boyega surpasses all expectations as Easley - the days of his cheesy depictions in a galaxy far far away feel like a distant unpleasant memory. Instead, the young English actor is spellbinding in offering a much more meaningful performance. Moreover, in what was his last on-screen role, Williams is magnificent as Sergeant Bernard. The chemistry that both he and Boyega have on-screen is superb, and the pair's over-the-phone relationship as assailant and negotiator really adds crucial depth to the film. Beharie is also brilliant as the terrified but composed bank manager Estel.

Breaking review

The feature itself is a very engaging watch, but its middle has a slight lull to it, detracting from the otherwise strong set up. In hostage flicks such as this, there is inevitably going to be periods of building tension, but also of character building and slightly more docile sequences in comparison. What's crucial, though, is that there's an ample balance of both to keep the viewer engaged. In Breaking's second act, there's an unfortunate period where the mix of the two isn't quite right. We're also left wanting a little more insight into Easley's circumstances prior to his fateful actions. Flashbacks provide welcome context to his life, yet it may have added something to delve into just a little bit more of the systemic institutional failures which let this former soldier down.

That said, Breaking is an incredibly moving film. Despite a few snags along the way, it not only asks strong and important questions of the powers that be, but it also has such an effect on the audience that it leaves us demanding the answers. It succeeds with heart, honesty and tenderness at telling the story of a man who merely wanted to live a fair existence after putting his life on the line for his country.

2023 movie reviews