Brian Brown-Easley served his country. His country, in turn, did not serve him. That simple fact led a troubled but decent man to put himself in an impossible situation. This is the premise for the biographical drama/thriller 892, one of the saddest movies playing at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. If his story doesn’t make you angry, you’re not paying attention. Of course, hitting on emotions and making a satisfying film are two different things, but this manages to definitely get the job done. Even if the genre elements are a bit run of the mill, the central performance, as well as the devastation of the situation, more than make up the difference. This is one of the most surprising flicks of the fest for me, without question.
892 mixes elements of a bank heist film with a character study, making sure we identify with Brian’s plight. It also has a ton to say about the state of America, even if it perhaps doesn’t always fully know what to do with its emotions. However, those missteps are small, and whenever the movie feels like it’s getting off track, a line or a moment brings you right back. It all builds to a final moment that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
This is the story of Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega). Brian is a former Marine struggling to adjust to civilian life. Injured in action, he has mental disabilities in addition to physical ones, making work difficult. On the brink of homelessness and worried about letting down his daughter, a mishap with the Veterans Administration results in his VA check not arriving. That’s the final straw for a desperate man. So, one morning he walks into a Wells Fargo bank and announces that he has a bomb.
Holding two bank employees (Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva) hostage, Brian is apologetic but determined to get attention. He only wants the VA to give him his money. Of course, once the police arrives, a standoff emerges. As he talks to television producer Lisa Larson (Connie Britton), fellow veteran and hostage negotiator Eli Bernard (Michael K. Williams) tries to bring things to a peaceful resolution. Brian is convinced he’s going to die in that bank. Eli is determined to prevent that from happening. The facts of the matter are well known, but regardless, watching it unfold is powerful.
John Boyega has never been better, while the late Michael K. Williams delivers a tremendous final performance. Boyega makes Brian deeply troubled and clumsy, but also incredibly decent. Seeing a hostage taker apologizing to his hostages could easily not work on screen. He makes it heartbreaking. As for Williams, his empathy here is off the charts. It’s a small turn, but one that leaves a big mark. The supporting cast, in addition to those mentioned above, includes London Covington, Jeffrey Donovan, Olivia Washington, and more.
Filmmaker Abi Damaris Corbin brings all of her passion to the screen here. Along with co-writer Kwame Kwei-Armah, she depicts both the empathy for Brian as well as the machinations of a system that can’t seem to help him. They’re at their best when 892 focuses on that, as opposed to the bank hostage elements. There’s genuine tension at play, largely due to how much you want this man to get a break. Of course, this is America, and as Brad Pitt said in Killing Them Softly, in America “you’re on your own.”
892 moved me deeply. The fact that Brian Brown-Easley’s story isn’t universally known is a shame. Hopefully, the film will move from Sundance to general release and catch on. Brian deserves nothing less and the movie does as well. I didn’t expect it, but this may be the festival title I find myself thinking about the most when things wrap up.