In July, 2017, a former Marine named Brian Easley walked into a Wells Fargo branch in Marietta, Ga., and presented a note saying he was carrying a bomb. Easley had no intention of robbing the bank. Rather, his ill-conceived plan was to air his grievance with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He had come to rely on payments he was due, and they had been withheld.
“Breaking,” directed by Abi Damaris Corbin from a script she wrote with Kwame Kwei-Armah (based on an article by Aaron Gell), dramatizes the day when Easley took two hostages and began frantic, often confused conversations with law enforcement and news media. (“I need to be on camera,” he shouts into a phone at one point.)
There is a faint, can’t-be-helped echo of Sidney Lumet’s fact-based 1975 “Dog Day Afternoon” in this picture. But one of the more impressive features of “Breaking” is an update of sorts: It depicts in stomach-churning detail how the contemporary militarization of law enforcement creates an atmosphere in which violence is near inevitable. This conscientious attention balances out the movie’s occasional lapses into sentimentality.
John Boyega plays Easley, and his voice intonations and eye movements often recall Denzel Washington’s. (Washington played a hostage-taker in the much more hyper drama “John Q.”) He nevertheless creates a credible character here, one both exasperating (as much as one sympathizes with Easley’s plight, his actions are inexcusable) and heartbreaking. Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva are outstanding as Easley’s frazzled hostages.
This was the final film completed by Michael K. Williams (here billed as Michael Kenneth Williams), who died last fall. He is beyond perfect in the role of a compassionate police negotiator, and the film is, its other virtues aside, an upsetting reminder of how much he will be missed.
Rated PG-13 for language and violent content. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. In theaters.