On the morning of July 7, 2017, Iraq war veteran Brian Brown-Easley entered an Atlanta Wells Fargo branch. Having been denied his disability check, Brown-Easley was fed up. He entered the bank armed with a note, a warning that he had a bomb. What followed was a hostage situation and a tense standoff between Brown-Easley and Atlanta police and SWAT. In Abi Damaris Corbin’s debut feature 892, we find a recreation of what happened that morning, and the tragic way one man’s life ended. With John Boyega commanding the screen in a terrific lead performance, the movie is viscerally tense. Good performances aside, the film ultimately feels like a re-tread of similar desperate man thrillers, but a very watchable one at that.
The tragic story of Brown-Easley’s final day is certainly reminiscent of a problem this country has yet to solve. Why should a man who served his country honorably be left homeless? Brown-Easley left the hotel he was staying in on that morning with the intention of getting his money back. He wasn’t interested in the money to be found in the Wells Fargo branch. His sole intention was making the VA do what it was designed to do; help him. Boyega does a lot of wonderful acting with his face in this movie. Capturing the mild-mannered man in a way that is ultimately hard to not empathize with.
The movie’s shortcomings don’t involve the character moments. Nor is it the visuals which are actually pretty solid, and capture the claustrophobia of being trapped in the bank. The camera always gives a wonderful sense of space within the bank. Rather, though we do get enough of Brown-Easley’s life to empathize, it rarely feels like we truly know him. A man pushed to the edge because the $892 that failed to appear in his account is ripe enough material to feel his pain. But, the movie never really gives us a portrait of what truly drove Brown-Easley into the bank beyond fiduciary reasons.
Brian’s possible mental health issues are certainly hinted at but feels incomplete. For as mild-mannered and respectful as he is towards the bank tellers he keeps hostage, it’s hard to wonder what truly would drive him to commit such an act. Maybe that is the intention. The mere inference of his paranoia is likely meant to connect that thread. But Corbin’s script, co-written by Kwame Kwei-Armah, doesn’t ever feel like it truly dives deep enough into the characters psyche and motivations. Ultimately, it leaves the film feeling a bit incomplete as a result.
The supporting cast is also quite excellent. In particular Nicole Beharie who gives two great performances in Sundance premieres this year. Beharie plays the bank’s manager who very calmly helps Brian and her co-worker remaining in the building played by Selenis Leyva. Beharie conveys the terror she’s feeling below her calm exterior presence with her eyes. The film also features the late Michael Kenneth Williams who also turns in a good performance as a police negotiator. Connie Britton also appears in the film as a TV reporter whom Brian calls to tell his story too. The scenes with Britton are largely forgettable and certainly not the stronger parts of the film.
Through exploring the current VA crisis, Corbin’s debut film holds some promise for the future. Her visual style is quite good, and the parts of her script that work are done pretty well. And yet, the feeling of the story being incomplete did weigh on me a bit by the time the credits rolled. In addition, the movie does lose focus of Brian’s perspective along the way. We see the police captain managing the PR side, the news station striving to not exploit the situation for ratings and even the story of his ex-wife and daughter. The latter of those plot lines is emotionally effective but like the other side stories it sort of feels out of place. 892 is definitely thrilling and an impactful story, even if it never really pushes itself beyond the surface of its real life drama.
Note: 892 premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and is currently seeking distribution. No U.S. release date has been announced.