Though anchored by good performances, especially by lead actor John Boyega, Breaking is a film which struggles to get its message across. The film has social and societal parallels available, but chooses not to explore or explain them too deeply. While it is easy to be sympathetic to the main character, the film leaves too many questions unanswered and avenues unexplored to really stick with the viewer in the long term.
Its social justice theme is potent and relatable in our present times, but the pace of the film lags on occasion. When the climax hits, it’s almost surprising because the leadup has been so minimal and devoid of specific action. Boyega plays a Marine war veteran, Brian Brown-Easley, who stages a bank robbery to get the VA to pay him back some $800 odd dollars it owes him. It is based on a true story, in which the would-be bank robber is shot dead, and only after do the police realize he did not have the bomb he said he did.
When the credits roll, we learn that the VA never paid this man his money, a true indicator of the sad reality of affairs vis a vis veterans affairs in our country. Although we can agree that our veterans might not be taken care of properly by the government, the film offers little in the way of nuance or original thoughts pertaining to that idea. Boyega, for his part, is supremely engaging in this role, as his performance is executed with enthusiasm and zeal. The movie will also end up being remembered for its inclusion of Michael K. Williams, in his final role before his untimely death. Boyega and Williams both turn in top-notch performances, nonetheless. Boyega is commanding in this role, and in the first moments of the robbery, his behavior is so erratic and mercurial that the viewer genuinely can’t predict what will happen next.
Williams plays a hostage negotiator who has much in common with Boyega’s Easley, but their dialogue together is limited and could have probably been exploited to better serve the film and the plot. Still, Boyega is given ample time in his own right to show off his skills. As Williams’ last film, “Breaking” reminds us of the sad loss of talent that came with his tragic passing. We are lucky we got to see these two together, even if only for a brief moment. Boyega has surely earned the right to significant praise for his part in this film, though the pacing does not do his character any favors.
The struggles of veterans in America are well-known and although the film does its best to shed some light on this fact, it fails to show us who Easley actually was as a human being. If Breaking was trying to get us to connect with Easley, it could have offered us more than the typical family life and fallen on hard times narrative. Reaching back into his time in the military, perhaps a flashback scene with his ex-wife or even a moment or two spent explaining the nature of his mental illness could have gone a long way in furthering that purpose.
We never really get to know Easley and his intentions or the background that causes him to act in this erratic way. It is implied that he suffers from mental illness, but without reaching deeper, the film offers no real insight into his motivations. It is an entertaining watch, if only for the performances, but “Breaking” is not a particularly thought-provoking piece of work. It is, despite this, a pretty straight forward true story-based film with noble intentions.
It would have been nice to see the film flesh out more of its ideas and help us to sympathize with its characters on a deeper level than just showing us how society has wronged certain individuals. There are also long stretches of the movie without dialogue. Characters are introduced and then sort of fade away again, and although their interactions with one another have the potential to be interesting, we never get a deep enough look to properly appreciate them.
Anchored by John Boyega’s riveting lead performance, Breaking does an adequate job of relating a true incident and the tragic nature of Easley’s life and robbery attempt, but for its 100-minute runtime, it offers little in the way of critical thinking and almost nothing in the vein of a nuanced, deeper inspection of its characters.