Films based on true stories that centre themselves around one main protagonist hang in the balance, relying almost entirely on the successful building and portrayal of that character. They make or break the result. Fortunately, there is no breaking in the case of Breaking. Brian Brown-Easley, played by John Boyega, is, indeed, the making of the picture. It’s a splendid portrayal of a beautifully complex character.
Brown-Easley, a near-penniless veteran, has returned from Iraq injured and in dire straits, this desperation prompting him to hold up a bank after not receiving his disability cheque. There’s a very genuine feel to the brokenness and lack of assuredness in what he does, the detail of which is masterfully engineered in Boyega’s performance. The character’s pain is paramount and he plainly regrets every move he makes as he is making it.
There is no shying away from dynamic of Brown-Easley being a Black veteran. He clearly feels (and the audience shares the palpable sense) that death is inevitable for him on this day: given the option to shoot to kill, the authorities will take that chance without a thought – which would perhaps not be the case if he was a white suspect. Writer/director Abi Damaris Corbin highlights the continuing prejudice of law enforcement against Black culture in America, something that has rightfully found greater and greater footing in public attention in the years since the events of the film and its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last year.
The protagonist-antagonist combo is what launches this work away from being just another tense hostage movie or tale of an impoverished veteran. He is likeable and incomprehensible, toying with the audience’s allegiance. While it is essentially a sorrowful film, the grainy, grey aesthetic of 00s urban America (think Changing Lanes) does few favours for Breaking. It’s a misfire for a 2022 release set in 2017, but it also makes for a paralysing, soulless start; it’s a while before any significant thrill kicks in. The drama does emerge, however, given the time to warm up. Ultimately, Breaking is effective, and more and more enthralling as it progresses.
Breaking is released digitally on demand on 27th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for Breaking here: