Watching this “based on a true story” drama, you can’t help but think back to several other films about decent men taking hostages because the system is horribly unfair to them — Dog Day Afternoon is the most obvious comparison. But Breaking had me thinking more of John Q with Denzel commandeering a hospital ER when his insurance company refuses coverage for his son’s heart transplant. Here John Boyega turns in a career topping performance as Brian Brown-Easley, a decorated Marine who brings a bomb to a bank because he wants the VA to give him the money they owe him so he can take care of his family. And it’s that performance and Michael K. Williams’s (“The Wire”) last turn before his death as the hostage negotiator that make this fairly predictable drama worth watching.

The gist of this movie is: Brian is a homeless vet. He’s divorced and adores his adorable daughter, but can’t provide for her. When the VA doesn’t give him the disability money he deserves and the bureaucracy has pushed him to the breaking point, he makes a bomb, walks into a Wells Fargo, and takes two of the bank’s employees hostage. All he wants is his $892.34. But not from the bank. He wants the VA to deposit it in his account. He is respectful of the two women hostages, frequently apologizing for his actions. And he really just wants to talk to someone who can help him cut through the red tape with the VA and give him his due.

Brian knows he needs the news publicize his story. He also knows that being a Black man in America he will probably die trying. And he does make contact with a local news woman (Connie Britton) who hears his story, but she isn’t allowed to make it go live. And as the time ticks by, Brian grows more and more frustrated, being no closer to resolving the matter, as everyone outside strings him along while the militarized police forces are moving in. He does eventually connect with hostage negotiator Eli Bernard (Williams) and that relationship is where the movie shines. Bernard hears him and you sincerely hope he can bring things to a fair and peaceful end. But…

All the performances are top notch. And it is a sad story that needed to be told. But there is just something missing in the telling. The story with the news reporter never really goes anywhere, and the scenes with the police outside feel like a separate film except for those with Bernard. It is the freshman outing for director Abi Damaris Corbin and despite the flaws in the film, I look forward to her next outing. And I’ll be keeping Boyega’s performance in mind when the awards season heats up.

Breaking is opening in theaters August 26. I’m sure a lot of vets will watch it and nod knowingly about how the Veterans Affairs system doesn’t hear them. I hope some of the bureaucrats that let this kind of thing happen will also watch, and the higher up the chain the better.


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