John Boyega is Brian Brown-Easley, at left, and Selenis Leyva plays Rosa Diaz in “Breaking.” Bleecker Street photo

All Brian Brown-Easley wanted on July 7, 2017, was $892.34, the amount that some far away cog in the rusty wheels of the Dept. of Veteran Affairs had, for some reason, withheld from his last disability check.

Brian (played here by a remarkable John Boyega, with a hint of Denzel-ish ferocity aboard) at this time was separated from his wife (Olivia Washington, “The Little Things” ) and adoring little girl Kiah (London Covington, Amazon’s “Hunters”).

Brian was down to pocket lint while talking to Kiah at night on a cell phone about to run down.

The film begins in a VA office filled with veterans of desert wars, sitting in plastic chairs, trying to get through another day of telling their story to someone who will probably do no more than listen.

Frustration builds up and erupts and Brian loses it. He is handcuffed and taken to the street. After a while, sympathetic cops let him go, and he sits on the steps wondering where the rest of this already bad day is going.

Here, in Abi Damaris Corbin’s Sundance feature debut “Breaking,” based on a real life case, the camera picks us up and walks us along the streets to where it will all begin.

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Here on this humid morning, we find Brian standing in front of the air conditioned local Wells Fargo Bank in Marietta, Georgia. Then we’re inside, where he stands scribbling a note on a torn piece of paper. “I have a bomb,” it says. And so it begins.

The teller, sharing a smile when he comes to her window, she reads. She takes a breath, her expression darkens and another woman at a desk far across the lobby takes notice.

We know Brian doesn’t have a bomb in his backpack, or a gun; in fact, he doesn’t even have a plan. This dark act was improvised out of desperation.

Only a few moments ago, Brian, a decorated Marine, was outside looking in, and this sudden, desperate act just came to him.

Nobody in the DVA was paying attention to him, in fact no one in Marietta was paying attention, not even his disinterested ex-wife, who was home with his daughter who adored and missed her father.

Don’t expect another “Dog Day Afternoon” bank robbery here. There are no comic moments scattered about to ease the tension, no bank full of employees.

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There are Brian and two clerks, both stellar performers, Nichole Beharie (“American Violet”) and Selenis Leyva (“Orange is the New Black”) who with Brian’s confused and amateurish permission, allows everyone else out the door, leaving the three of them to play out the second and final act of this tragedy.

Slowly, the predominately white Marietta police force grows outside in the parking lot with expert snipers, soon joined by FBI and GBI agents, heavy armor, news people, reporters and cameras that gear up for a war against, what they soon learn, is one Black man with a “bomb.”

The senior cop appears, a white bearded Michael K. Williams (“The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire”) in his last role, as an ex-Marine who connects with Brian.

Sadly, Williams died Sept. 6, 2021 of a drug overdose. “Boardwalk” alone is a testament to a formidable actor.

What happens this day in Marietta, Georgia, in Abi Damaris Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s beautifully worked script, is a sad, true story of an American Black Man, a medaled warrior who served his country and was betrayed by it.

There is much to admire in this powerful film. Michael Abel’s soft music floats like a fog throughout, and Doug Emmett’s camera pays attention to small moments and smaller, but important details like Brian’s rimless glasses, hooded open sweatshirt and worn shoes.

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But the movie rises on the skilled wings of the British actor John Boyega (who played Finn in the Disney made “Star Wars” sequel trilogy), delivering a performance we will long remember.

In memoriam: Michael Kenneth Williams who gave us many performances to remember.

 

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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