Breaking Synopsis: When Marine Veteran Brian Brown-Easley is denied support from Veteran’s Affairs, financially desperate and running out of options, he takes a bank and several of its employees hostage, setting the stage for a tense confrontation with the police. Based on a true story.
A disgruntled veteran attempts to right the wrongs of his treatment from the Veteran’s Affairs office by igniting a hostage situation in Breaking. As an offshoot of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Breaking embarks on the challenging quest of analyzing its real-life subject, Brian Brown-Easley, and the multitude of circumstances driving him towards one harrowing day. Adapting a real-life figure, particularly one with Easley’s complex history, imbues a heavy weight of added responsibility on the creative team’s shoulders.
While Director/Screenwriter Abi Damaris Corbin and co-screenwriter Kwame Kwei-Armah may occasionally stumble from overworked mechanics, the duo approach their subject matter with the utmost sincerity. Breaking examines its real-life event with the gravity and thoughtful perspective it deserves.
It helps that Corbin and Kwei-Armah showcase an observant eye for real-world textures. After scouring through numerous accounts on Easley and his struggles with mental illness and poverty post-service, I commend the duo for maintaining authenticity in their depictions of Easley’s life-altering day. Some lines of dialogue even reflect direct quotes from Easley and the enclave of first responders and media personnel circling him. Moreover, the creative team’s attentiveness and empathetic pulse ensure that the film never drifts into uncomfortably exploitative territory.
Breaking also understands the significance behind Easley’s pertinent story. His pursuit of righteous justice symbolizes an act of desperation after being discarded by the Veteran Affair’s office and the world at large. Like so many returning veterans, Easley returned home to a society that expressed mere ambivalence to his struggles and the lingering effects generated from his service life. Easley apologetically undertakes the robbery as his only means of drawing attention to the issue, promising his captors they will remain safe and often treating them with kindness.
Easley’s pursuits, while admittedly volatile, draw an undeniable sense of empathy from anyone with a genuine ear. Unfortunately, most parties involved don’t express much interest in his background. Aside from one compassionate negotiator and Easley’s cooperative hostages, the surrounding rush of media outlets and armed first responders merely view this event as another day at the office. The leering view of sniper scopes and camera lenses adopt the same menacing connotation as the veteran’s story becomes a thankless source for apathy and commodification. Breaking’s raw depiction of this dichotomy extracts a striking narrative about the painful realities facing many veterans and minorities alike.
A cast of dedicated performers thankfully brings Easley’s story to life with profound impact. John Boyega delivers an expressive performance as the central protagonist. Between impactful rushes of mania and fear, Boyega depicts the undercurrent of vulnerability motivating Easley’s decisions. The recently-passed Michael K. Williams stands as the film’s notable standout. Williams gives viewers one last reminder of his generational talents, commanding the screen in a performance that yearns with pain and emotional sincerity as an empathetic negotiator. Co-stars Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva also deserve ample praise for conveying the raw emotions of the bank’s hostages.
Some may see Breaking as a nail-biting thriller from its buzzy marketing material. To be honest, the thriller elements rank as the film’s weakest aspects. Corbin sometimes tries too hard to draw engagement when the film’s emotional undercurrent is already a captivating source. The film’s introductory act suffers the most from this dilemma. Corbin’s sensationalized style choices and Michael Abels’ over-the-top score unnecessarily strain the film’s real-world core during the initial heist.
Once the film finds its footing, Breaking offers a breathtaking view into an all-too-common reality. I hope this film finds an audience theatrically as it provides much-needed indictments on glaring societal issues.
Breaking is now playing in theaters.