Some actors struggle to break out of the roles that bring them attention. For a few years, it seemed as if the toxicity surrounding the sequel Star Wars trilogy could prevent John Boyega from reaching superstardom. However, after an award-winning performance in Small Axe, Boyega distanced himself from blockbuster entertainment. Focusing on smaller, quality projects brought out the best in Boyega. His latest performance in Breaking does not just sing. It’s the best work of his career.
Originally titled 892 at Sundance, Breaking follows the story of Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley (Boyega). One day, Brown-Easley walks into a bank and reveals to the teller he has a bomb. Over the course of the day, Brown-Easley struggles to communcicate with the police (Michael K. Williams), the bank employees (Nichole Beharie/Selenis Leyva) and his wife (Olivia Washington). Directed by Abi Damaris Corbin, Breaking forces the audience to endure a standoff, and confront the truths of veteran care.
Like the famed Dog Day Afternoon, most of Breaking occurs in the bank. Boyega brings energy and pathos to the role, drawing the audience into the action. Boyega holds court, getting minutes at a time to showcase his emotional character. He brings a self-confidence to screen that’s simply possible to ignore. Despite that, the crippling doubts of his actions begin to eat away at him.
While the film requires tension to keep us involved, the pacing compliments the performances. Corbin provides plenty of time for us to bond to the characters populating the world. However, the focus on Boyega leads us to more emotional payoffs. Corbin knows that Bodega’s performance lifts the film.
Just as essential to unlocking the story, Williams delivers a beautiful career send off. After passing away in 2021, Williams’ legacy as a performer seemed complete. Long considered one of the great subtle performers, layering deep emotions on verbose characters, Williams provides a showcase that becomes the epitome of his career. His empathy stretches through the screen, reminding us of his unique ability to connect. Bringing that approach to Breaking boosts our connection with Boyega, and helps sell the tragic elements surrounding the story.
Corbin does not shy away from the message of Brown-Easley’s life. The film does not wish to wallow in grief. Instead, it reminds us of the complicated nature of life. Corbin uses the tale to highlight the frustrations that many discover when they return home from war. While one may be valorized for their service, becoming a soldier changes a person.
With brilliant performances from both Boyega and Williams, Breaking evangelizes the importance of taking care of our very best. If not, the ripples of tragedy are far-reaching. As we continue to grapple with mental health in modern society, stories like Breaking need to be told.