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Sundance 2022 Review: Breaking – “John Boyega really truly embodies the torment and distress of Easley.”

A still from 892 by Abi Damaris Corbin, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Chris Witt.

In her feature debut, 892, director Abi Damaris Corbin (also co-writing with Kwame Kwei-Armah) crafts a film based on the true story of Brian Easley, a former U.S. Marine.  He’s a man estranged from his wife and his daughter, though he still clearly loves both.  The veteran is currently living in a run-down motel room, and behind on payment, though there is a distinct reason for this.  It’s a reason out of his control.  But he’s about to take control back. 

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Out of desperation, one morning Easley (John Boyega) walks into a Wells Fargo bank, wearing a plain grey sweater and carrying a backpack.  He walks up to the teller, Rosa Diaz (Selenis Leyva) and takes $25 out of his account, afterwards passing her a slip of paper informing her that he has a bomb.  He gets the assistant manager Estel Valerie (Nicole Beharie, also appearing in Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul) to lock the door.  Ever polite to his two now-hostages, Easley only has one real demand – to get the $892 dollars back from Veteran’s Affairs that was deducted from his last disability cheque.  But more than that, he wants his story told.  

Boyega really truly embodies the torment and distress of Easley within the four walls of the bank.  He is quietly reassuring to the two women trapped inside with him, he’s grateful to the reporter trying to tell his story (Connie Britton), yet there is always this simmering rage beneath the surface of a man desperate for answers.  Beharie is also excellent here, stoic as Estel tries to instil a sense of confidence to Rosa.  The late Michael K. Williams also stands out (in one of his final roles) as the negotiator with whom Easley finds some common ground.  

Though for all their excellent performances, 892 can’t quite keep the tension it wants throughout its runtime.  This unfortunately, lessens the impact of the film as a whole.  You can see this film’s inevitable conclusion way before it plays out on screen, it’s never a matter of what, just a matter of when.  Adding more tension through the characters as opposed to the situation helps, but I never felt that this was the whole story.  

I’m sorry to say that I did not know about Brian Easley before seeing this film, but I feel that there are an unfortunate many who can relate to his plight – one where bureaucracy hurts those that have sacrificed so much; where current resources are simply not enough.  That said, besides this snapshot in time, I still don’t feel like I got to know him outside of this tragedy, and the man cannot be defined by just these hours alone.  While the intentions behind 892 are clear and honourable, I would have wanted more about the build-up to Easley’s entry to the bank, and certainly more about the fallout from his unnecessary and untimely death. 

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