Under Pressure – Breaking (2022)

Since I am going to be isolated at home while dealing with Covid, I will try to chip away at some of the films that I haven’t gotten a chance to write about yet. Breaking is more of a social drama than a thriller, but John Boyega injects all of himself into this film and that’s worth the price of admission.

Based on a true story, a US Marine who served in Kuwait and Iraq claims to have a bomb and takes a pair of bank employees hostage to try to recover his Veterans Affairs benefits and bring awareness to his situation.

This is the sophomore feature film from Abi Damaris Corbin and it’s a big story to take on but she handled it with reverence. It’s a fine line to walk too because the person at the center of the film was clearly having their decision-making influenced by their mental health struggles and there tends to be a lot of pushback on that narrative in most media. I appreciate that Corbin trusted her lead actor with the subtleties of the performance and we get a genuinely fantastic turn from Boyega as a result. That said, I would have liked to see more of Brian Brown-Easley’s story outside of the bank.

We get the key basics from the character foundation to make him sympathetic. He’s a marine who’s struggling with PTSD back at home and not getting the kind of support he needs. And we see that he’s a good dad who loves his daughter very much. That is enough to get us into the bank, but there wasn’t enough time to get to really get to know this character as well as we should before he makes the very important decision to take hostages in the telling of this story.

This is almost exclusively a one-location film and despite the bomb threat, there isn’t enough tension to drive the whole movie from there. Based on what we know about Brown-Easley to that point, he definitely doesn’t seem the type to kill innocent people to get what he wants. So, even believing he has a bomb is a stretch before he goes out of his way to be very nice and accommodating to the two women who he takes hostage. In fact, he repeatedly tells them that he’s not going to hurt them and it’s only in the frantic moments where his PTSD comes to the surface that he comes across as a real threat. There are also numerous conversations throughout the film where Brown-Easley lays out how his story is going to end, so there is not much left when it comes to the possibility of surprise.

John Boyega is fantastic and I hope this role gets the attention it deserves later in the year

Given those circumstances, it says a lot about the brilliance of Boyega’s performance that he is so compelling in the lead. On the one hand, his character’s goal seems like a righteous one but, on the other hand, his bouts with mental illness make him susceptible to paranoid delusions. Boyega plays both sides of that coin with nimble grace and respect for the man he’s portraying. In previewing this film I called it the “Denzelification” of John Boyega and there are certainly some John Q vibes emanating from this one.

Michael K. Williams

One of the other big motivators for me to see this movie was that it was the final film role for Michael Kenneth Williams who passed in September of ’21. He plays the police negotiator and fellow Marine who attempts to end the standoff peacefully. Williams is a great bridge between the audience and the police response, helping you understand that many elements of Brown-Easley’s quarrel with the VA are legitimate. He could have been more heavily involved for my liking, but Williams gave a well-balanced and very human portrayal under very stressful circumstances.

Nicole Beharie

This movie is all about the performances and both Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva bring as much to the story as anyone else with their supporting roles as the two bank workers who wind up stuck inside the building with Brown-Easley. The tension that exists in the story comes from these two who are stuck between a rock and hard place. There is a constant push and pull of having to be fearful of the bomb threat but also feeling sympathy for the man who is in front of them. As much as Brown-Easley may have been polite and promised them that he wouldn’t hurt them, there is no way they can take that at face value and so the audience is always waiting to see if one of them is going to make a move.

Selenis Leyva and Boyega

This is a sad story. I don’t think there is any way around that. Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah, who wrote the screenplay, understood that this isn’t a film you’re supposed to feel good walking away from. That may be why there are so many instances where the ending is alluded to so often for the audience members, like myself, who were unfamiliar with the story.

Recommendation: See it for the performances and for the light that’s shone on the blight of veterans who return home after their service.