[Screen It]


(2022) (John Boyega, Nicole Beharie) (PG-13)

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Drama/Suspense: A combat veteran threatens to blow up a bank and two employees if the Dept. of Veterans Affairs doesn't make things right for him.

Feeling like he's gotten nowhere with the VA who he claims has stolen his disability check, former combat Marine Brian Brown-Easley (JOHN BOYEGA) realizes he must bring public attention to his plight, even if it means he might not ever see his ex-wife Cassandra (OLIVIA WASHINGTON) and their young daughter, Kiah (LONDON COVINGTON), again.

So he goes to a Marietta, Georgia bank and gives teller Rosa Diaz (SELENIS LEYVA) a note that states he has a bomb. She and manager Estel Valerie (NICOLE BEHARIE) then calmly clear out the clients and other coworkers, leaving them alone with Brian who apologizes for what he's doing, but is determined to be heard.

Accordingly, he calls for the police to arrive -- eventually resulting in contact with veteran negotiator Eli Bernard (MICHAEL KENNETH WILLIAMS) -- and then calls the local TV station where assignment editor Lisa Larson (CONNIE BRITTON) takes the call. As the police surround the bank, Brian demands that he get his money...or else.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

"They didn't have to shoot him" and "They didn't have to kill him" are two phrases that are being heard more often nowadays in relation to police shootings of civilians. Sometimes such shootings are justified, such as when the suspect has already killed others and needs to be neutralized or killed to save others, with distraught family members making one or both of those statements simply out of shock.

At other times, and the ones that have populated news cycles recently, police shoot and kill those who seemingly pose no immediate threat to others, such as those in otherwise routine traffic stops or encounters with mentally challenged people who can't understand what's happening. And then some fall into more gray areas where an emotionally unstable person has put others in harm's way with a stated intent to do something bad, but could just be bluffing. Or not.

Such was the case with 33-year-old, former Marine lance corporal Brian Easley who walked into an Atlanta suburb bank in 2017 and handed a teller a note that stated he had a bomb. His tragic tale was the basis of the 2018 article "They Didn't Have to Kill Him" by Aaron Gell which has now inspired a movie drama based on that and the true-life events, "Breaking."

In more ways than one, the film is sort of an updated version of the superb dramatic thriller "Dog Day Afternoon" which itself was also based on true events. But rather than wanting money to pay for his partner's sex change operation, Easley (a terrific John Boyega) is intending to use his "bank robbery" as public leverage to get what he says is owed to him by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. And that's $892 in disability payments that were withheld from him.

While that amount might seem measly compared to what's available in the bank, it's not to him as that money will mean the difference between staying in a cheap motel or being forced out onto the streets. After getting nowhere with the local VA office (seen in a few flashbacks), the desperate man understands he must partake in desperate measures both to get his money and draw attention to his plight and that of other veterans facing similar issues.

He ends up holding two bank employees hostage -- teller Rosa Diaz (Selenis Leyva) and manager Estel Valerie (Nicole Beharie) -- and immediately contacts 911 to get a negotiator assigned to the incident (who eventually shows up in the form of the late Michael Kenneth Williams -- also quite good here) and then a local TV station where he tells his story to assignment editor Lisa Larson (Connie Britton). And as all of that unfolds, he chats on the phone with his young daughter (London Covington) and ex-wife (Olivia Washington).

Director Abi Damaris Corbin who co-wrote the script with Kwame Kwei-Armah ratchets up both the suspense and emotional engagement as things unfold over the film's 100 or so minute runtime. The latter came as somewhat of a surprise to me as I didn't react that way at first, especially since the basic plot and related trappings have been done many times before and I wasn't expecting much beyond the predictable.

But as things played out, I found myself more invested in the protagonist and his plight. While we never truly get to know him or the other characters for that matter, there's more than enough here to latch onto, with how things will ultimately be resolved hanging in the balance (notwithstanding the title of the source article, Hollywood is known for altering the facts from time to time to serve creative storytelling purposes, so I had no clear-cut idea what was going to happen in the end).

Thanks to a strong performance by Boyega and a surprisingly emotional core, "Breaking" is an effective dramatic thriller that will certainly continue the conversation of the use of force in police response to uncertain and potentially dangerous situations. The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Posted August 26, 2022

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