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  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Chris Witt.

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

John Boyega elevates this true-life thriller with urgency and raw emotion

A mesmerising John Boyega lights a fuse under this poignant but by-the-numbers depiction of an Atlanta bank siege in 2017. As desperate young ex-US Marine, Brian Brown-Easley, he adopts a note-perfect accent that calls to mind a young Denzel Washington – and he’s in no way flattered by the comparison. The Londoner is quickly showing that there’s not much he can’t do.

Set in an satellite town in Georgia but filmed in LA, Breaking is bathed in an ugly yellow-green light that reflects the world as Easley sees it: miserable, murky and inhospitable. He’s shacked up in a local motel, his phone is out of credit and when it comes to his ex (Olivia Washington), so is he. His young daughter is his world and he can’t even afford to call her.

None of this explains why the real-life Brown-Easley walked into a nearby Wells Fargo bank claiming to have a bomb in his sports bag. The reason for that – and the significance of the number in the title – paints a depressingly familiar story of a veteran let down by the county he’d served with distinction and driven to despair.

John Boyega is quickly showing that there’s not much he can’t do

Director Abi Damaris Corbin (who co-wrote with British playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah) keeps the pacing brisk to capture the loose-caboose momentum of a situation no one is really in charge of.

She knows where the real drama lies – using slow zooms to give Boyega space to chart a desperate man’s fluctuating frame of a mind – but maybe misses a trick by toggling between so many viewpoints. Every cut away from Brown-Easley to show a sniper team packing and unpacking their gear, or the gathering media frenzy outside, dilutes the tension. 

But the presence of the late Michael K Williams as a police negotiator who connects with Brown-Easley both as a fellow veteran and a human adds another layer of poignancy. Like the would-be bomber inside and the bank’s manager (Miss Juneteenth’s Nicole Beharie), trapped inside, he’s a Black American set up to fail in the situation that affords him plenty of responsibility but almost no control. 

Breaking is on PVOD in the UK Mar 27.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Abi Damaris Corbin
  • Screenwriter:Abi Damaris Corbin, Kwame Kwei-Armah
  • Cast:
    • John Boyega
    • Michael Kenneth Williams
    • Jeffrey Donovan
    • Connie Britton
    • Selenis Leyva
    • Nicole Beharie
    • Olivia Washington
    • London Covington
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