First time feature director Abi Damaris Corbin tells the heartbreaking real-life story of Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley in her new film “892” which just had its premiere at Sundance 2022. Jonathan Majors was originally slated to star but had to leave due to his obligations to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Enter Jon Boyega (“Star Wars”, “Small Axe”) who plays the former Marine and war veteran who loses all hope after his disability check fails to come through from Veterans Affairs. Faced with the possibility of homelessness, Brian makes a desperate decision with tragic consequences.
Corbin also co-wrote the script alongside Kwame Kwei-Armah. In addition to Boyega, the film features the final performance from the late Michael K Williams. It also stars Nicole Beharie, Connie Britton, Jeffrey Donovan, and Olivia Washington. All do a good job filling out this character-driven thriller which drags a bit in the middle, but never loses sight of the important issue its tackling.
Full disclosure: I’ve always been a bit on the fence when it comes to Jon Boyega. It’s not that I think he’s a bad actor. I’ve just had a hard time connecting with his performances. Well, call me a Boyega convert. Everything about his performance in “892” clicks. Every line he delivers comes with conviction. Every emotion he gives us feels true. It’s a heavy role and the 29-year-old Brit pours every bit of himself into it.
Set in Atlanta, “892” wastes no time getting things underway. When we first meet Brian, he is already in a bad place. We learn via flashbacks that he was working two jobs to make ends meet, but due to his health he was forced onto veteran’s disability. But after Veteran’s Affairs find what they deem to be an outstanding debt, they use Brian’s benefits to cover the past-due amount. He insists it’s a mistake and pleads with the VA rep to help him. But instead of getting his $892.00 disability check, Brian is handed a pamphlet on homelessness.
Reasonably frustrated and seemingly out of options, Brian decides to do something drastic; something that will send a strong message to the VA and expose their poor treatment of its vets. After calling his precious young daughter Kiah (London Covington) and his ex-wife, Cassandra (Olivia Washington), Brian walks to Wells Fargo Bank. Once inside, he slides a handwritten note to a teller named Rosa (Selenis Leyva) that reads “I have a bomb.” The only words the paralyzed Rosa can utter is “What do you want me to do?” Brian’s response is unexpected, “Trigger the alarm.”
As the rest of the movie unfolds, Corbin treats her audience to a suspenseful thriller but also a relevant and deeply affecting drama. She takes her time unpacking her main character, showing Brian Brown-Easley to be a kindly yet troubled soul. There are scenes showing his bouts with PTSD following two tours in Iraq. But we also get plenty of revealing moments of gentleness and compassion (there’s a great scene where he takes a message from a bank customer calling about their 401(k)). Corbin’s keen attention to the emotional details earns our empathy and makes the journey we take all the more heartbreaking.
In addition to Boyega, the rest of the cast is strong top to bottom. Nicole Beharie is terrific as the able and resourceful bank manager Estel, one of Brian’s two hostages. Michael K Williams is also good playing a police officer doing everything in his power to get Brian out alive. And Connie Britton gets some good scenes playing a television reporter caught between the big scoop and journalistic ethics.
“892” shines a much-needed spotlight on the VA’s failures in its treatment of America’s military veterans. Corbin doesn’t sugarcoat the issue, but she never gets heavy-handed with it either. She maintains a good and steady balance with it and the handful of other social issues she brings to light. The film loses some of its steam in the middle as the police are slowly building their presence outside of the bank and Brian waits to some kind of response from the outside. But it still packs an emotional gut-punch, and Abi Damaris Corbin proves herself to be a filmmaker to watch.