Friday, August 26, 2022

The Heist Drama BREAKING Isn't Bad, Just Only Intermittently Compelling

Now playing in the Triangle at multiplexes and maybe an indie theater or two:

(Dir. Abi Damaris Corbin, 2022)

In this moody one-man heist melodrama, John Boyega, best known for being given little to do in the recent spate of STAR WARS sequels, is put in the familiar position of an average man who walks into a bank with a note to give to a teller that triggers a series of troubled events. A hostage situation, a squad of eager-to shoot cops outside, and a media circus exploiting the whole scene – all the things that are making multiple critics call this “a modern-day DOG DAY AFTERNOON” – are such well worn elements that it’s nearly impossible for the viewer to not have déjà vu, but Abi Damaris Corbin’s first solo film as director has an undeniable earnest emotional pull in its best moments.

Sadly, the best moments in this based-on-a-true-story don’t add up to a fully engaging experience, despite the invested acting by both Boyega as Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley, and the late Michael Kenneth Brown as the hostage negotiator, Eli Bernard. 

The narrative of the Marine, whose real intention when taking over the Wells Fargo Banks in Marietta, Georgia in 2017 by threat of a C-4 explosive in his backpack was getting the attention of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) because he hadn’t received his disability payment, is only intermittently compelling. 

The heartfelt phone conversations between the intense Boyega, who well portrays Easley’s paranoid and possibly schizophrenic mindstate, and the brotherly concerned yet still easy going Brown are the film’s strongest strand, but there is too much drawn out and wasted space surrounding their exchanges.

I’m reminded by another movie, actually called THE NEGOTIATOR, with a similar premise that starred Samuel L. Jackson, and Kevin Spacey. I can’t find the review, but I remember one critic gave it two stars and said that it was one star for each actor. If I were a star-branding film scribe, I’d be tempted to do that, but I would perhaps award another star and a half for the film’s crisp editing, tense tone, and the solid work done by the women on the sidelines like Nicole Beharie as the frazzled, yet keeping-it-cool bank manager, Selenis Leyva as a scared AF teller, and Olivia Washington as Easley’s ex-wife. London Covington as Easley’s kid Kiah is also effective in her teary close-ups.

With its uninspired title, and spare narrative, BREAKING fails to give Easley’s story the power it needs to really move audiences, but the performances and the well-worn formula may still be entertaining enough to justify a matinee ticket. It’s possible that the movie is unsatisfying because what went down with Easley (captured in Aaron Gells’ 2018 article They Didn't Have to Kill Him for Task & Purpose that the film is based on) is definitively unsatisfying. Maybe as earnest, well-meaning, and noble an effort as they can muster, there’s still no way getting around that.

More later...

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