Breaking might draw comparisons to John Q, the tremendous 2002 Denzel Washington film. It focused on a marginalized man screwed over by the system desperately trying to take control to prompt overdue action.
It’s not an awful comparison — thanks largely to the performances — even if Breaking never reaches the same level of intensity. And has a less than satisfying conclusion.
Based on a true story, Breaking is the tale of Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker), an Iraq war veteran desperate to have his story told. Brian was effectively robbed out of his veteran benefits by Veteran Affairs and facing homelessness.
Worse, the lack of funds will significantly hinder his ability to help his ex-wife, Cassandra (Olivia Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth), and daughter, Kiah (London Covington).
With packed waiting areas of veterans also seeking some form of assistance, Brian takes a desperate measure of holding a bank hostage with the threat of a bomb. Brian isn’t interested in causing a massacre and allows all but the two bank managers, Rosa (Selenis Leyva) and Estelle (Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth), to leave.
Hoping to get his story out and reparations of his disability fund, Brian encourages Estelle to call the police and the media.
For all the rah-rah military propaganda at political pep rallies and football games, the reality of how veterans are treated isn’t nearly as honorable.
Director/co-writers Abi Demaris Corbin and co-screenwriter Kwame Kwei-Armah effectively show the factory-like handling of veterans. Their issues are supposedly addressed by a pamphlet and a DMV worthy slow crawl line with no guarantees their problems will be handled.
Boyega gets one of his meatier roles and eats well with a performance that shows off his impressive range. There’s some surprising humorous moments as Brian politely fields bank phone calls and gets into a comic book discussion. And just as randomly, Brian lashes out in frustration that he won’t be able to accomplish his goal even if he realizes he won’t survive.
Beharie is ridiculously underrated as she always delivers quality performances. Add this role to her highlight reel. Estelle could be a one note character, but Beharie gives her welcome nuance whether quietly seething at police officials to do something or calmly trying to relate to Brian beyond hostage/robber. Leyva handles more of the terrified hostage and is very effective.
By the film’s midway point, a negotiator Eli Benjamin (Michael Kenneth Williams, Lovecraft Country) arrives to help diffuse the situation. It takes all of five minutes for Williams to enliven the film as it was falling into a lull. His 2021 death was such a major loss, but at least his final film appearance showcased his usual high level of quality.
Breaking’s structure isn’t set up to go 143 minutes. There are too many long, lingering scenes that needlessly stretch the film out. Given the premise it feels like Breaking should be shorter to help cultivate that sense of desperation and a pending deadline.
Corbin and Kwei-Armah could have established more of Brian’s backstory. There are some flashes of his military tenure, but they don’t add much context.
Similarly, the subplot involving a TV news anchor (Connie Britton) feels undeveloped to the point it didn’t add anything to the film.
With its methodical pace, Breaking has no new avenues to explore 40 minutes in. The well-developed tension hits a point of diminishing returns as Brian keeps repeating his agenda, Estelle keeps trying to get Rosa to get it together and Eli attempts to prevent the situation from ending in tragedy.
Breaking shines a not-so flattering look at the struggles of veterans having to jump through legislative red tape for services they were promised.
It’s not nearly as riveting as the filmmakers intended, which is unfortunate as this is an issue that warrants far more outrage.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Bleecker Street
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