Review: John Boyega crime drama ‘Breaking’ lacks tension

A young veteran with the weight of the world on his shoulders walks into a bank and almost shyly tells the teller that he has a bomb in his backpack. But he doesn’t want to rob the bank. He lets almost everyone go. What does he want? The $892 he believes he owes him from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Breaking” is based on the true story of former Marine Brian Brown-Easley, played by John Boyega (Finn in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy). The filmmakers were first brought to attention by a 2018 article by Aaron Gell on the military-focused news site Task & Purpose. Easley’s story is part indictment of VA bureaucracy and trigger-happy police, part hostage drama, and part character study of a man in dire straits. Unfortunately, the procedure feels too heavy and diffuse for the punches to land.

The narrative slopes downward, never changing its trajectory significantly. There’s little suspense as to the outcome, even if one isn’t familiar with the true events (this reviewer wasn’t). Key pieces of the man are missing, including his troubled marriage and difficult transition back to life at home. Though some shades of his paranoia are portrayed, Brown-Easley’s history of serious mental illness is largely ignored. This is not a documentary and should not be held to high journalistic standards, but the lack of context and focus makes Breaking feel unbound. It doesn’t have to be a thrill of sorts, either – but a deeper, darker dive into its protagonists might have helped the film connect.

The film doesn’t delve into the reasons for the missed payment in order to create something resembling an antagonist – be it the VA bureaucracy, Brown-Easley’s mental instability or whatever. Rather, we have a protagonist with whom we vaguely sympathize because he doesn’t seem to want to harm others.

This vagueness is not a fault of acting. The ensemble won a Special Jury Award at Sundance this year. Boyega places a man who has pushed his breaking point. Nicole Beharie is believable as the cool bank executive who knows she better keep her sanity. Notable in one of his most recent roles is Michael K. Williams as the compassionate police negotiator. He doesn’t overdo the drama, instead focusing on getting in touch with the desperate suspect.

Brown-Easley’s story is interesting and the film’s acting is engaging. Unfortunately, “Breaking” is not convincing as a cinematic experience.


Rated: PG-13, for some violent content and strong language

Duration: 1 hour, 43 minutes

To play: General release on August 26th Review: John Boyega crime drama ‘Breaking’ lacks tension

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