Abi Damaris Corbin
Breaking is a heart wrenching thriller with one of the year's best performances to date from John Boyega.
In her first feature film, writer/director Abi Damaris Corbin tells the true story of a young man who goes to senseless and desperate efforts to get the justice he feels he deserves. John Boyega plays Brian Brown-Easley, an ex-Marine who is denied access to his VA disability payments due to a technicality. Left homeless with no luck being heard at the VA office, Brian takes matters into his own hands by holding up a bank with a bomb. He has no intentions of robbing the bank. He is simply using this as a platform to be heard and get what he believes he is owed from the government. Most people in the bank are allowed to leave, but two bank employees (played by Nicole Beharie & Selenis Leyva) are kept as hostages to protect Brian's safety. He says he has no intentions of hurting the two women, and he seems sincere, but they quickly recognize they are being held by a man who is impulsive and not necessarily mentally stable. Hostage negotiator Eli Bernard, played by the late Michael Kenneth Williams, relates to the young man and wants to help him, but he seems to be fighting an uphill battle against a system and fellow officers that seem to be indifferent to the plight. It all leads to an intense and gripping ride.
The first thing that becomes obvious when watching Breaking is just how good John Boyega is. Most probably still only see him as the rogue storm trooper in the latest trilogy of Star Wars, but he has been putting fascinating and nuanced performances out the last few years in films from Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit to Steve McQueen's Red, White, and Blue episode of his Small Axe anthology. However, with his performance here in Breaking, Boyega goes to another level we have yet to see. He shows an intensity and a range of emotion, paired with undeniable charisma, that shows what kind of special talent he is. He felt like a young Denzel Washington in this film, commanding the screen and dominating a film where he rarely leaves the frame. This is an Oscar-worthy turn for him, and between this and his upcoming film The Woman King, Boyega could have a special year and start to earn a reputation as one of the most talented actors at his age.
The stellar performances of this film don't stop with John Boyega. Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva give heartbreaking performances as women stuck in a horrible situation. Beharie is a definite standout here. Also, in what is said to be his final film role, Michael Kenneth Williams shines.
This story is undeniably rich and moving, and Abi Damaris Corbin gives a valiant effort letting the story speak for itself and not messing it up. In the hands of a more experienced filmmaker, this could have been a truly special script paired with the special performances. It's not that Corbin does a bad job in her first writing and directing effort (in fact, I see her as a filmmaker to watch in the coming years), but these performances with this story had the potential to be truly be something very special. Instead, there are aspects to the plot and themes to the story left underdeveloped and incomplete. The ending is also quite abrupt, which does have a definite lasting imprint as you leave the theatre, but more could have been done.
With all this said, I loved this film. Most of my criticisms were me seeing how the great movie could have become a masterpiece. As it is, Breaking is an important story that needs to be seen. It talks about the homelessness crisis in our country, the way we treat our veterans when they come back home, and, without being overly blatant about, how race plays a role in all of the above. Add to this a host of strong performances (led by the brilliant John Boyega) the story comes to life in a grounded and powerful film.
Rating: 3.5 stars
View the trailer here: