Wednesday, August 24, 2022

A hostage-taker with small demands


  Watching Michael K. Williams in Breaking serves as a forceful reminder of how much the late actor commanded every scene in which he appeared. Williams, who grew up in a tough Brooklyn world,  died of a drug overdose in September of 2021. He was 54.
   It's worth remembering Williams's great performances as Omar Little in The Wire and as Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire. Williams was a rare actor whose anger, ferocity, and intelligence made him unforgettable.
   That's an odd way to begin a review of a movie in which Williams plays a supporting role but I wanted to acknowledge an actor whose presence always seemed to burn through the screen.
   In Breaking, Williams plays Eli Bernard, a police negotiator who tries to persuade the movie's main character (John Boyega) to release two employees (Nicole Beharie and Rosa Diaz) he's holding hostage at a small bank.
   Based on a true story, Breaking stands as an indictment of the VA. A botched VA payment of a paltry $892 triggered a breakdown by Boyega's Brian Brown-Easley. 
   A former marine, Easley teetered on the line separating an earnest young man from someone who had slipped into paranoid fantasy. 
   A terrific Boyega makes it clear that Easley didn't want to hurt anyone, even though he threatened to detonate a bomb if the VA didn't meet his ludicrously modest demand. 
    An absurd media frenzy enriched the premiere hostage movie -- Dog Day Afternoon. Director Abi Damaris Corbin  also charts Easley's attempts to attract media coverage. Easley eventually establishes contact with a producer (Connie Britton) at a local TV station. But the media isn't a target here.
     Corbin maintains a seriously committed point of view throughout: After serving in the Persian Gulf, Easley was discarded by a bureaucratic system that rendered him invisible.
    Breaking isn't a perfect movie. Contrasts and connections between Easley and Bernard, both former marines, are provided in sketchy fashion, and Bernard's clash with unsympathetic white officers in the Georgia town where the story is set are shortchanged. Tension comes and goes.
      But a strong cast is anchored by Boyega's memorable performance as a who young man who asked for very little -- and couldn't even get that. 

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