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Movie Review - "Breaking" by Dan Webster

There’s an aspect of acting that I’ve noticed over the years that I like to refer to as the “Twilight” syndrome.

It has to do with the demands that certain roles require of the actors hired to play them. In terms of “Twilight,” no matter what you think of those teen-vampire-heartthrob movies, it’s fairly clear that all Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were required to do was gaze longingly at each other while mumbling their lines. Neither seemed destined for stardom.

Yet against all odds, both have become arguably two of the most popular movie actors of their generation. Stewart is a darling of noted filmmakers such as Pablo Larrain and Olivier Assayas, and Pattinson – besides being the latest incarnation of Batman – has snared his own series of choice roles in films by the likes of Christopher Nolan and Claire Denis.

All of which makes John Boyega’s career transition that much less surprising. Boyega is the star of “Breaking,” a film that premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and is just now – as of this coming Friday at least – getting a limited theatrical release.

British born and bred, Boyega is the son of Nigerian immigrants. Now, 30, he’s been a working actor since his late teens, mostly on UK television. His career took off, though, when he was cast as Finn in J.J. Abrams’ 2015 film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” then followed up in the two “Star Wars” sequels, 2017’s “The Last Jedi” and 2019’s “The Rise of Skywalker.”

Thanks to Abrams, Boyega joined a franchise consisting of dozens or more talented actors who have performed in the various iterations of the “Star Wars” universe, from Alec Guinness to Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson to Felicity Jones. That said, acting in such sci-fi blockbusters isn’t quite the same thing as performing “Hamlet” at London’s Old Vic Theatre.

Boyega, besides being able to feign a credible American-sounding accent, managed to fulfill everything his character of Finn required. But, clearly, his performance in all three films was more serviceable than spectacular. “Breaking,” though, presented him with a far different challenge. And like Stewart and Pattinson before him, he was able to show a level of talent far surpassing anything he showed in his “Star Wars” turns.

Boyega plays Brian Brown-Easley, a real-life Marine veteran who one summer day in 2017, walked into a bank located in an Atlanta suburb, and announced that that he had C-4 explosives in the backpack he was carrying. Though he never claimed to be robbing the bank, and he let several employees and customers leave, he held two employees as hostages. And he began making a series of phone calls, both to the authorities and to a local television station.

His complaint: For reasons he didn’t understand, the Veterans Administration had cut off his disability payments and he was facing eviction from his apartment. All he wanted, he insisted, was the $892 that he said the VA owed him. He said he didn’t want to harm anyone. But he insisted he was ready to detonate the explosives he was carrying.

While he talked, a police presence surrounded the bank. Local officers were joined by crisis negotiators, a SWAT team, fire department personnel, and representatives from not just county but also state and federal law-enforcement departments, including the ATF and FBI. And during the ensuing three hours, Brown-Easley kept making phone calls, talking to anyone he could reach – including his estranged wife and 8-year-old daughter – and explaining his story.

All this – and the eventual outcome – is captured in “Breaking,” directed and co-written by Abi Damaris Corbin. And though Boyega is at the center, he’s joined by a cast of skilled actors, including Nicole Beharie and Selenis Neyva, who play the bank employees, Michael K. Williams – in one of his last roles, this one as a crisis negotiator – and Connie Britton, who plays a TV reporter.

But it is Boyega on whose shoulders the film rests. And it is he who shows that, given the right role, a talented actor can find the – wait for it – power of the force within.