Every day, soldiers come home from across the world and face a common, harsh reality; that after years of dedicated service to their country, we fail to give them the basic support needed to reintegrate and survive in our modern world. That’s what is on full display in true-life thriller 892, the latest film starring John Boyega, as a former marine who held up a local Atlanta bank back in summer of 2017.
Brian Brown-Easley was a proud member of the Marines, who was honorable discharged due to injuries he sustained overseas. When we came home, he was given monthly disability checks by the VA, in the titular sum of $892, to help cover his cost of living. Not being able to find, or keep, a job since returning home, Brian relied on his checks to live day to day. But he soon comes to discover that the VA has taken his money without giving a proper explanation. Desperate to get back, Brian anxiously walks into a local Wells Fargo in Atlanta, fills out a withdrawal slip, goes to the counter and informs the teller, Rosa Diaz (Selenis Leyva), that he has a bomb in his backpack, and he is going to blow up the building unless his demands are met.
As he is talking to Rosa, the bank manager, Estel Valerie (Nicole Beharie), escorts everyone out of the bank, leaving just her, Brian, and Rosa. In trying to plead for their lives and to get Brian to rethink his decisions, we learn that he’s not robbing the bank at all, but just wants to get to get his monthly checks back. It’s within these moments the movie ramps up the tension, as we know Brian’s frustration and desperation have met an all-time high. But the thing is, he is internally conflicted in his actions because he isn’t a violent man, as shown in the opening scenes with telephone conversations he has with his daughter, Kiah (London Covington). With her, Brian is soft and protective, teaching his daughter to make the right decisions in life, much to the chagrin his estranged wife Cassandra (Olivia Washington).
But Brian must do this, as he knows there is no going back after his actions in the bank. As events play out, he speaks to producers of the local television station (Connie Britton and Kate Burton), to tell his story and see if what they can uncover what happened to his VA checks. He’s not doing this for fame, just resolution to his problem. It is then followed by conversations with negotiator Eli Bernard (played brilliantly by the late Michael Kenneth Williams, in his final film role), who tries to relate to Brian and their shared history in the military, with Bernard hoping Brian can hang on before he hurts himself and anyone in the bank.
In writer-director Abi Damaris Corbin debut (she co-wrote the screenplay with Kwame Kwei-Armah), she doesn’t allow this true-life story to become a standard biopic, filled with the generic trappings that can make a movie like this become melodramatic. Instead, she injects tension and intrigue to a story that audiences might have seen before in something like Dog Day Afternoon but makes it fresh and relevant given the current issues with how America treats the men and women in uniform post their service to their branch of the military. When it is discovered that a clerical error was the root of all of this heartache, it has never felt so costlier, and thus felt more tragic. Corbin, along cinematographer Doug Emmett, places their camera squarely in front of their lead actor’s face for most of the film, and we see all the pain and anxiety pulsating out of Boyega.
Giving the performance of his career, Boyega is an unstoppable force, bringing Brian’s layer, complex, devastating story to life. He conveys every stressful struggle weighting on Brian’s shoulders, as each decision he makes could be the last one before the police break in to stop him. As he struggles to keep it all together, Estel (in the bank) and Eli (on the phone), talk to him, about their lives and their own daily tribulations. By just speaking with him, they realize how much they are trapped in similar societal prisons, within their jobs or the VA or other institutions, thus gain sympathy for Brian and what he tried to do with this visceral demonstration.
892 not only highlights the injustice that happens every day to veterans like Brian Brown-Easley, but the constant battles everyone in America, and around the world, have to fight for in order to keep what their version of normal alive. It’s more than just fixing the VA that will solve the issues faced in the film, but society at large must come to terms with the strangle hold it has on people trying to succeed. The fact that sharp yet harrowing films like this continue to be told in our modern society is a testament to how little progress we’ve actually made.
This review is from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute