Humble and unassuming former US Marine Veteran Brian Easley is struggling to assimilate back into society. Desperation and helplessness have led him to the doors of a bank, carrying a bomb and a message to share with the world. Brian isn't after anything unreasonable: what he's demanding should already be his, and he's determined to finally get it no matter the cost.
In contrast to the usual action-packed tropes often featured in heist films, Breaking instead makes an admirable attempt to draw focus to the political and social issues which drive its protagonist to such desperation: from neglect at the hands of Veterans Affairs, his struggle to assimilate into life at home, a rocky marriage, and some all-too-brief references to underlying mental health issues. Ultimately, though, the broad range of themes it attempts to cover is Breaking's fatal flaw. It cannot delve deeply enough into any of them, and as such does a disservice to all of them.
There are some intriguing elements, but once again these are glossed over too quickly to really tease out any tension. One example takes the form of Brian's insistence on getting his message out there without clarifying exactly what that message is. The most disappointing, however, is the lack of exploration of all the ways Brian has been failed by Veterans Affairs. Not only is this a missed opportunity to scrutinise a very real issue, it also fails to pose the VA as a credible antagonist and the subsequent heist therefore lacks momentum or meaning. The result is that Breaking feels flat, unfocussed, and very low-stakes.
Breaking's saving grace is undoubtedly its cast, all of whom give phenomenal performances despite the only sometimes engaging material. John Boyega delivers perhaps his best performance to date as Brian Brown-Easley, switching deftly from outbursts of rage to polite and apologetic, an unusual take on a bank robber which constantly wrong foots the audience. Michael Kenneth Williams is also brilliant as police officer Eli Bernard. The scenes Boyega and Williams share are easily the most engaging part of the film, crackling wonderfully with the unspoken tension of two men with a shared history but separated by the deepest chasm. But even despite an incredibly strong cast and occasional moments of artful cinematography, Breaking ultimately falls short of the mark.
It is clear Breaking has set out with the most admirable of intentions, even if they have been disappointingly executed. Nevertheless, John Boyega's compelling performance brings enough to the piece to at least do some justice to Brian Brown-Easley's story.
Breaking will play at the Manchester International Film Festival and will be available to stream in the UK from March 4th