‘Breaking’ Review: John Boyega gives transformative performance

Breaking, directed by Abi Damaris Corbin, tells the story of former Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley. Five years ago, the marine veteran walked into a Wells Fargo in Marietta, GA, and never returned. Delivering a riveting performance, John Boyega encapsulates the ups, downs, and lightheartedness of the former veteran and father whose life ended tragically that day.

Taking in the range of difficulty Brown-Easley faced before making this life-altering decision might be too much for some. It’s also a very grim truth that many veterans in our country face today. It all started when Veterans Affairs (VA) withheld his money because of a debt he owed. $892.34 is the total he was owed. An honorable veteran, ex-husband, and loving father, was seemingly homeless (living out of a motel room at the time). The supposed “bank robbery” was not a robbery at all. It was one man using his last shred of dignity to make a boisterous cry for help.

His interactions while in the bank radiate his true intentions: fairness. He wasn’t abusive to the employees, he referred to everyone he spoke with as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’, and he reassured the two women he kept inside that he wasn’t there to harm anyone, he just wanted what he was owed. The hostage negotiator, played by the late Michael K. Williams in his final role, was also a veteran and could tell that this was a guy who was beaten down by no fault of his own. One of the more powerful exchanges in the film was Brown-Easley speaking to employees Estel Valerie (Nicole Beharie) and Rosa Diaz (Selenis Leyva) with the message repeating itself to negotiator Eli Bernard (Michael K. Williams). Both the employees, Brown-Easley, and Bernard, are all African-American, so everyone understood Brown-Easley’s message of “You know how this ends for me.” Within the first few minutes of holding up the bank, he asks Estel what happened to ‘the guy’, who robbed a bank a while back. “Did he live?” he asks. “Yeah”, she said. He sarcastically replied, “He was white huh?”

“Michael K. Williams in BREAKING. Courtesy of Bleecker Street.”

At the end of the day, everything in existence is about race. Whether it’s the war in Ukraine, abuse in women’s sports, or a broader subject like healthcare, racism will have its roots and black people will feel it the worst (and we know it). This is why Brown-Easley knew he was going to die. White terrorists can shoot up grocery stores, schools, and churches, and know they’ll eventually see their day in court. But time and time again, black people are handled unfairly and black life is seen to have no value. It should be noted that holding up banks and making bomb threats is not how you should convey a message. It should also be noted that for-profit colleges, the VA, and the system as a whole, need to be dismantled and refreshed to better serve the people.

Breaking gets an 8.5 out of 10. It’s a sad narrative no matter how you spin it. Whether it was the treatment he received after serving in the Gulf War, the failing system, or racism baring its ugly head, the antagonist in this film will depend on your perspective.

Breaking will make its way to theaters on August 26.

-Jon Jones

Photos: Courtesy of Bleecker Street

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