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‘Breaking’ Is An Inside Look Into What Happens When Good People Navigate Broken Systems – Review

The world we live in is defined by systemic injustices that continue to imbalance our world. Breaking is an emotional depiction of that injustice through the tragic story of Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley. 

The former Marine (played by John Boyega) experienced mental health complexities while navigating increasing difficulties with finding financial and mental health support through veteran affairs. Faced with housing, food, and financial instability, Brian held up a Wells Fargo, where he stated he had a bomb. The veteran let the majority of the staff and customers leave the bank, with the exception of two employees (played by Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva). An hours long negotiation and conversations with a local news outlet ensued, all in an attempt for Brian to show how inequitable the world is. 

(Courtesy of Bleecker Street)

Written by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Abi Damaris Corbin and directed by Corbin, Breaking is brought to life through the acting talents of Boyega, Beharie, Leyva, Michael K. Williams, Connie Britton, and Jeffrey Donovan. But talent is putting it mildly when Boyega blesses the screen with acting chops that come straight from the “Denzel Washington School of Acting”. 

Boyega channels the Oscar-winning actor’s charisma and emotive sense of acting in what can only be described as a career-best for the British actor. When paired with the depth and grace that Williams, who portrays negotiator Eli Bernard in his final film role, conveys and the fear, strength, and courage that Beharie and Leyva bring to the screen as Estel Valerie and Rosa Diaz, it doesn’t feel like acting. It feels like you’re brought back in time to witness a piece of history instead. 

Selenis Leyva and John Boyega in Breaking.
(Courtesy of Bleecker Street)

And while the film is meant to highlight the story of the former Marine, it also explores the realities of veteran trauma. What happens when soldiers transform back into civilians is something Kwei-Armah and Corbin’s storytelling does wonderfully. This is what makes the film stand out from its different hostage/robbery film predecessors, such as John Q, Hostage, and The Negotiator

The film is based on a true story, but the movie itself is a speculative observation of why Brian was compelled to do what he did. One can only ponder on what would have happened had the veteran received adequate financial and mental health support. Instead, viewers become flies on a wall to a situation that feels completely dismal due to different systemic injustices that plague the Black community, the aftermath of veteran trauma, and the disconnect with those who are more privileged between those who aren’t.

(Courtesy of Bleecker Street)

This film is less about a hostage situation and more about the imbalanced structures of society that administer a disadvantage to some and the need for systems that equitably provide support to those in need. And while the ending teeters on the borderline of becoming a public service announcement, ultimately, the film is a call to action to rectify societal wrongs while also a reminder that many of us are one step away from being caught in a complex and terrifying situation. 

Still, with strong writing and even stronger performances, Breaking is an emotional ride that will leave you questioning every system and every side of a story.

Rating: 9/10

Breaking is now playing in theaters.

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