Saturday, August 27, 2022

Movie Review: Breaking (2022)

Directed by
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:

Friday, August 12, 2022

Movie Review: Emily the Criminal (2022)

Directed by
John Patton Ford

Despite a stellar performance by Aubrey Plaza, Emily the Criminal falls short to an underdeveloped story and script, leading to a an average film that had potential to be great.

In the directorial and writing debut from John Patton Ford, Emily the Criminal centers on Emily, a character where you learn everything you need to know about her character in the very first scene.  Emily, played by Aubrey Plaza, is being interviewed for a job.  Everything seems to be going well, and Emily is a very personable and likable person.  Then she is asked to explain a potential blemish on her record that will be found when they do a background check.  She tells a story of a misdemeanor DUI on the way home from a concert with some friends.  It is then revealed that her background check indeed had come through, and they know about her felony assault conviction.  They were testing her honesty and integrity.  Feeling tricked and betrayed, Emily chooses to storm out in a tirade instead of try and make good.  It is a brilliantly acted scene by Plaza.

Now for the actual plot ... Emily is given a phone number by a friend saying she should text for some easy money.  When she texts, she is given details to a meeting where she meets Youcef (Theo Rossi), who offers her $200 for an hour of work.  All she has to do is commit credit card fraud.  Everything is set up, she just needs to buy something with the fraudulent card and her fraudulent ID.  When this works, a relationship begins to develop between Youcef and Emily as she needs to decide if she is going to continue to pursue a legitimate life or follow Youcef into a life of increasingly less innocent crimes.

The best thing this movie has going for it is Aubrey Plaza, who consistently shows over and over again that she is a dynamic actress capable of brilliant performances of so many varieties.  This is a role that she brings so much depth to, not just in her line delivery, but especially in the quiet moments.  Theo Rossi also provides a strong character in Youcef, a man with legitimate dreams that has to revert to a life of crime to make them come true.

Unfortunately, these great performances are hindered by a weak script that leaves holes in what had the potential of being a strong story.  All the elements of a great story are there, but there are holes in the plot and too many conventional beats.  As the film transitions from the second act to the third act, the relationship between Emily and Youcef takes a turn that is inevitable yet not executed in a great way.  The plot seems to take giant leaps, leaving so much plot and character development on the cutting room floor.  This movie could have used an extra 15-20 minutes to fully round out this full downward spiral of Emily, who goes from innocent fraud to Bonnie and Clyde.

Emily the Criminal is worth seeing for Aubrey Plaza, but if you are expecting a great movie to go along with the great performance, you will be left wanting more.

Rating: 2 stars

Watch the full trailer here: