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Breaking review: Dir. Abi Damaris Corbin

Directed by Abi Damaris Corbin, who co-wrote with Kwame Kwei-Armah, Breaking opens with what we know as all-too-familiar American scene across the world, and that’s a black man in cuffs being led somewhere by the Police. That initial image in itself tells a story, and while we don’t know why or what happened, this time the cuffs are unlocked and he’s let go, it’s an engaging first shot of our introduction to John Boyega’s Brian Brown-Easley.

Based on a real-life situation, and an article by Aaron Gell, I won’t reveal the title because it’d give you too much if you don’t know the story, but Brian deserves some context to his story. A former U.S Marine, Brian lives in a Atlanta motel and separated from his wife and child, Cassandra (Olivia Washington) and Kiah (London Covington), respectively. His daughter, Kiah, plays a large part in his motives for what’s to come next, especially as his life is pushed to the limits, driven by a lack of support from the government and particularly a cut in his payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is money designed to keep living attainable, even if it’s not much.

Brian is soft-spoken and well-mannered, despite his desperation, but clearly on the edge. We see a little bit of why he’s like this, revealed via flashback later on, and we actually join him as he decides to step inside a bank, take some hostages and reveals he has a bomb. Interestingly, and this is the smart and strong performance from Boyega, this is all done very calmly. Brown-Easley doesn’t actually want to cause too much friction and although struggling with his mental health, he allows Bank staff to let the customers out before he asks her to lock the door. Once that’s done, and he’s left with two members of staff, he gets them to call the Police and tell them he has a bomb. What does he want? He wants the money that he’s owed by the VA, and he wants it now – nothing else.

Overall, Breaking is a decent, solid drama but it’s John Boyega who elevates everything with an equally tragic, emotional and thoughtful performance. He brings the character to life with body language, the way he’s walking and a general down-trodden manner but it never feels over-dramatic, he’s transformed himself into the reality of his characters’ situation, and you instantly feel his sorrow; this is another soul thrown to the wolves of the system, and he’s barely clinging on.

Brian’s humanity is displayed by the relationship he tries to build with the hostages and while there’s only two of them, and this was based on reality, both Nicole Beharie’s Estel Valerie and Selenis Leyva’s Rosa Diaz offer balance in the seriousness of the situation, as they’re slowly being surrounded by the media and police. Estel is in charge, and tries to encourage Rosa to escape with her but the latter is too frightened to leave. Beharie offers an authentic performance and while she tries to calm the situation by mirroring Boyega’s Brian during intense situations, her intelligent approach is knocked back because Brian’s PTSD and mental health is beyond coherent, because of the stress he’s under.  

It’s also good to see Michael K Williams in one of his final role before he recently passed away. He plays negotiator, Eli Bernard, and is presented as one of the few who actually understands, as they both have military background, and also appears to be one of the few who wants to settle the situation with a positive resolution, which others are plainly arguing against. It’s a measured performance, cleverly controlled. The reality is that Brian just wants to tell his story, if anyone will listen, and Eli wants to help him do that, if he can.

Breaking could be a story about anyone in the modern era, despite the literal real-life connections, and what happens when the system that’s meant to protect you, lets you down, which it does to far too many, across the Globe. Well directed, finely shot by Doug Emmett and subtly scored by Michael Abel, this is a solid watch and while the overall cohesion doesn’t always bring the continual compelling nature of some similar stories, a genuinely tender, meaningful performance by John Boyega offers us an intense, real situation reflecting an everyday person on the extreme edge, and that actually becomes an almost more important accolade to the story being told.

Breaking is available to Rent or Buy now – Head here: https://amzn.to/3TT2ssH


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