Bleecker Street
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Abi Damaris Corbin
Screenwriter: Abi Damaris Corbin, Kwame Kwei-Armah
Cast: John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, Michael Kenneth Williams, Connie Britton
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/20/22
Opens: August 26, 2022

Forget “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Mesrine,” and “Dog Day Afternoon.” Abi Damaris Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah introduce us to a bank robber like no other; a guy who walks into the Wells Fargo Bank without a mask, without showing a gun, and hands the teller a withdrawal slip with his real name to take $25 out of his account. He then announces his plan. He’s polite, though he sometimes loses control, and tells the two bank employees what has led him to risk his life or liberty. Wait, there’s more. He orders the employees to call the police and the news media and refuses to accept a dime from the bank he is allegedly robbing. This is one unique dude.

The most amazing thing is that “Breaking is based on a real event that took place in an Atlanta suburb; the filmmakers even shows a picture of the guy who died in 2017. Corbin in her freshman feature clearly needs you to sympathize with the criminal who wants only the $892.34 that the Veterans Administration owes him from a disability he incurred during the Iraq War and who, despite professing that he has a bomb in his backpack, has no intention of putting anyone’s life in danger—except, of course, his own.

Although the various police agencies are gathering outside the bank, including a sniper looking for the first moment that intruder shows his face, “Breaking” is not for an audience that wants a “Bonnie and Clyde,” and in fact proceeds at a snail’s pace. Its appeal comes from the performance of John Boyega as Brian Brown-Easley. He whines, he cries, he appears clear as a sunlit Georgian day, all emotions that you’ll probably expect from a guy who received an honorable discharge as a Marine, serving his country only to be ignored by the VA for reasons about which we never find out.

Brown-Easley has an ex-wife Cassandra (Olivia Washington) and a young daughter Kiah (London Covington) who, based on phone conversations with her dad clearly loves him and has every right to expect him to keep his promise to get her a puppy. Never mind that he lacks even enough money to claim a dog from the pound, living in a third-rate motel and about to be on the street. That is no way to treat a man who risked his life serving his country. It’s probably safe to say that the two bank employees (Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva) become so forgiving of the man who holds them hostage that they display instant cases of Stockholm Syndrome.

He gets his wish to tell the sad story of VA treatment while discussing his case with a hostage negotiator (the late Michel Kenneth Williams), which allows us in the theater audience to wonder what part of Brown is a mental case and what part is heroic. When he is on the phone with his daughter, the director Corbin milks human emotion, the little girl responding “daddy” right on cue. Yes, there is a manipulative gene in Corbin’s body, but the film, like the true story, should have awoken the VA to injustice. To this day, Brian Brown-Easley did not get the money he believes he deserves.

102 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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