“Breaking” Highlights A Broken System

Picture of John Boyega as Brian Brown-Easley in Breaking. He is bald and wearing a gray zip sweatshirt and holding a bomb trigger in his hand while he talks on the phone.

“If I die today, I die alone.” These are the words Brian Brown-Easley tells the bank teller as they wait for police to respond to the call that he is robbing the bank. But the truth is that no one will walk away from this day unscathed.

Breaking, based on the article “They Didn’t Have to Kill Him”, is the story of the day that Marine veteran Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega) walked into a Wells Fargo Bank determined to fix an error between the bank and the Department of Veteran Affairs (the amount of which will shock moviegoers) which resulted in him losing crucial funds that left him on the brink of homelessness. Boyega gives a quiet but moving performance as a man described by people as calm and well-mannered, even while holding up a bank. Boyega acts opposite Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva, who play bank tellers Estel and Rosa, respectively. As Rosa, Leyva vacillates between accommodating and terrified.  She clearly sympathizes with Brian’s plight and wants to see him survive but her fear overrides her attempts to act. Beharie gives an enigmatic performance as Estel who is a hard character to read. She is both take charge and manipulative; playing both sides as she reasons with Brian and looks for ways to get out of the bank alive. Beharie keeps the audience guessing. Is she on Brian’s side or does she want to take him down?

Many will look forward to this project as it is one of the last films Michael K. Williams completed before his untimely death in 2021. Playing hostage negotiator, Eli Bernard, Williams takes on the role of the audience in many ways. Eli is trying to understand how Brian got to this point by reaching out to his family and tracking down his story. Eli connects with Brian through their shared military background and cultural similarities and, like the audience, he wants Brian to survive this day. But it’s clear to everyone, that the inevitable is going to happen. 

Beyond the performances, where Breaking truly sings is the editing. Seamless cuts to flashbacks of Brian’s attempts to resolve this error show how ineffectual the system can be and how defeated and dehumanized he feels before walking into the bank that fateful day. Boyega so perfectly captures Brian’s mild-mannered demeanor that every time he raises his voice, the air hovers with tension. The jumps between Brian and Eli on the phone while Estel talks with the 911 operator illustrate the lack of communication amongst the responders. All of it weaves together to paint the picture of a tragic response that is ultimately the result of a domino of failures. Breaking truly puts a human face on a broken system. 

Breaking opens nationwide in theaters on Friday, August 26th | Starring John Boyega, Michael K. Williams, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, and Connie Britton  | Bleeker Street Productions




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