Breaking REVIEW – Incredibly Heartbreaking

John Boyega delivers a career-best performance.


One afternoon, former Marine Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega) walks into a bank and tells the bank teller Rosa Diaz (Selenis Leyva) he has a bomb. Unless Veteran Affairs (VA) sends him the money they owe him, he will detonate the bomb. Things escalate tremendously from there, but how did he get to this breaking point? Director Abi Damaris Corbin (she also co-wrote the film) helps us fill in the blanks through tight flashbacks, and the opening scenes also do great work in showing us the plight Brian is in.

After being honourably discharged from the military, Brian couldn’t adapt to regular society. The military gave his life purpose and meaning, now he’s cast adrift, unable to hold down jobs because of physical ailments, as well as his PTSD. Without the money from the VA, he’ll be homeless, and so he’s pushed into this desperate act.

Breaking succeeds because of Boyegas’ incredibly humanizing performance, slightly reminiscent of a younger Denzel Washington. He’s riveting to watch, and is able to keep a simmering tension in the air even when there’s nothing happening. What contributes to that tension is Brian’s vacillations. One moment he’s taking phone calls from a customer and being extremely polite, the next he’s angrily reprimanding her on the phone. So even though he assures his two hostages that he won’t hurt them, they can’t know for sure if he’ll keep his promise, especially if there’s something that triggers him emotionally.

Despite the situation they find themselves in, bank personnel Rosa and Estel (Nicole Beharie) are sympathetic to Brian’s plight. They want to help him, but are also fearful of what he may do when pushed to the edge. Both Leyva and Beharie deliver such affecting performances. Rosa’s initial jovial attitude disappears into a flood of fear, a state that paralyzes her, while Estel tries to maintain a calm, professional front, but finds herself losing it when everything is coloured with inaction.

In the midst of this, Chief Bernard (Michael Kenneth Williams), the negotiator for this hostage situation, tries to deescalate things so that he can save Brian’s life. This was Williams final performance before his passing in 2021, and serves as a reminder of the powerful screen presence he had. It was only a handful of scenes, yet he was able to communicate his character’s empathy for Brian, and his desire to help a fellow Marine, It’s clear to see that the rest of law enforcement don’t feel the same way, content to violently take Brian down when opportunity presents itself rather than make contact and negotiate him into surrendering. Brian himself knows this, that he won’t be able to walk out of the bank alive.

The film is divided between scenes at the bank, the growing military presence outside the bank, WSB-TV headquarters, and the home of Brian’s ex wife Cassandra. The scenes involving Brian’s phone call to the news producer Lisa Larson (Connie Britton) feel especially lacking, not contributing much to the overall efforts of the movie. Breaking also feels a tad confined due to its adherence to the events that happened that day. At times, it does feel like the movie’s stalling for time, as things move towards the inevitable ending.

Still, it’s an important film for what it does for Brian, allowing us to see a man who was invisible for so much of his life. Because that’s all Brian ever wanted, to be treated as a human being instead of the apathy he received.

Review screener provided.

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Breaking sees John Boyega at his best. He performs at full capacity, even when the script lets him down in parts.