If you’ve ever wondered how women of color would handle themselves in a hostage situation, the new movie Breaking gives you an idea.
Abi Damaris Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s screenplay is based on an actual situation that happened in an Atlanta-based Wells Fargo Bank back in 2017. Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega), a disgruntled, former Marine Corps veteran, shows up at the bank threatening to blow it up with a bomb he’s built if he doesn’t get his recently withheld disability payment check. While his threat scares a Latina teller (Selenis Leyva) to the point where she can barely move out of her seat, the African-American manager (Nicole Beharie) keeps a cool head, ushering people out, locking the door and trying to talk some sense into dude before he and/or them become casualties.
Breaking is a heist film where the aforementioned characters are more afraid of the danger lurking outside than the danger inside. Practically everyone in this movie — including the cops themselves — seem to live with the sad but true reality that the police shoot first and ask questions never. And Brown-Easley and his two hostages are quite certain that the cops will most likely put two in his head instead of taking him alive.
Conveniently released a few days after the 50th anniversary of the actual bank robbery that inspired Dog Day Afternoon, Breaking is a more racially charged, caper-gone-wrong flick. For her feature-length debut, director Corbin mines real-time melodrama out of this fact-based tale, using Brown-Easley’s story to illustrate how poorly our (Black) veterans get treated once they stop fighting and become everyday citizens again. She and British actor/playwright Kwei-Armah adapt journalist Aaron Gell’s 2018 piece, mainly sticking to the events that transpired when he took over the bank.
Just like Dog, it manages to churn out moments of genuine pathos (like Brown-Easley’s emotional phone calls with his daughter) and dark humor (Brown-Easley also takes a few calls from a woman unaware a holdup is in progress, wanting to know what’s up with her account).
Boyega, who stepped in when original star Jonathan Majors had to start working on Marvel stuff, is all quiet panic as the semi-unhinged but still sympathetic Brown-Easley. He’s well aware that he’s in way over his head — but he’s not gonna stop until he receives what he’s owed. He gets a small smattering of supporters, including the late Michael K. Williams (in his penultimate, final film role) as the police interrogator/ex-military he swaps war stories with, and Connie Britton as a TV news producer whom he tells his story to.
The cast (who won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival) are a convincing bunch. They keep you riveted and concerned right up until the movie’s unfortunate climax, which doesn’t dramatically unfold so much as it just plops out, hitting you with a deadening thud.
Up until that point, Breaking is an impressively-acted story of a man who was fed up with the federal government screwing with his money, and the hostages who — although they were scared as hell — wanted to see him both satisfied and alive.
“Breaking” is in theaters Friday.