Comparisons with the classic Dog Day Afternoon are inevitable but just as that film helped define 1970s cinema, the fact-based Breaking is a film of its time. Directed by Abi Damaris Corbin, who co-wrote the script with Kwame Kwei-Armah, Breaking is a spare and lean film with a stellar, racially diverse cast that gives the film’s depiction of working people authenticity. John Boyega is flat-out terrific as beaten down war veteran Brian Brown-Easley who, in an act of desperation, holds two women employees hostage in an Atlanta bank as he demands that the VA funds that are owed to him are paid.
Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva as the bank manager and a teller, respectively, balance Boyega’s man on the edge with performances full of emotional nuance, compassion and grit. Breaking also features one of the last screen roles from acclaimed actor Micheal K. Williams, who died last year, as the seasoned but sympathetic police officer who communicates with Brian through a series of fraught telephone calls.
As the tension inside the bank mounts, law enforcement teams assemble outside. We know all too well from real events just how badly it could go when the FBI bangs on a door or as snipers train their high powered guns on the bank’s distant glass windows. Without heavy-handedness, Breaking shows the irony of an embattled Marine barricaded in a room with weapons of war methodically trained on him. In a devastating finale, the unleashing of sophisticated, soulless machinery is a final indignity.