One of the most anticipated titles coming out of this year’s Sundance, 892 is a tense, yet overly-extended waiting game. In telling the harrowing real-life story of ex-US Marine Brian Easley, expertly played by John Boyega, writer-director Abi Damaris Corbin does a fine job with directing her performers, but despite its relatively short runtime, she struggles in streamlining 892 to deliver the full potential of its narrative. When describing the film, one thinks of the humanity that exudes from Boyega’s role and the desperation of his situation. Corbin attempts to examine America’s broken system in providing for its veterans, which she does so with enough success. Moreso, the film’s main struggle is far-reaching and can also be seen as a greater metaphor for anyone who’s been made vulnerable and victimized by their government.
The film follows troubled veteran Brian Easley as he resorts to desperate measures when the United States Office for Veteran Affairs, known as the VA, fails to pay him $892 in disability benefits. 892 takes place in one primary location – a Wells Fargo bank in Atlanta, Georgia. Here, Brian walks in dressed as a regular, casually-dressed customer with a backpack and withdraws $25 from his bank account. However, things take a massive turn when Brian reveals that he’s concealing a bomb. Everyone in the bank is able to leave, apart from two employees, Estel (Nicole Beharie) and Rosa (Selenis Leyva), who are held back as hostages. And even though he’s committing a criminal act of the highest degree, Brian has no intention of hurting anyone – he constantly apologizes to his hostages. After a long wait, Brian gets the attention of the media who release his details to the world, but he won’t stop until the VA finally listens too.
John Boyega puts on an unforgettable performance. The character he brilliantly plays is so vividly worn and torn from the outset, clearly from the VA’s negligence, that his actions quickly make a lot of sense, despite being extreme. Although one feels an enormous amount of empathy towards Brian, the film never digs much further into his persona. An example of this can be seen through the infrequent flashbacks that attempt to unpack more of Brian’s past. The clichéd trope of using flashbacks turns out to be nothing of use as they only show a couple of war-set scenes, barely expanding on the trauma he’s so obviously in the midst of, and two somewhat useful moments that explain his absolute disdain for the VA.
The supporting characters, as well-acted they may be, are relegated as thin, background subjects to aid Boyega’s part because of the screenplay’s unbeknownst lack of interest in building them as fully-fledged humans. Beharie and Leyva start out strong, before fading away from the picture as a legion of other perspectives are brought in. The script’s insistence on following the fully-weaponized army of law enforcement, along with a few unmemorable reporters, covering this crisis is a big detriment to its narrative flow. It breaks up the audience’s growing connection to Beharie and Leyva, along with Cassandra (Olivia Washington), Brian’s estranged wife, and Kiah (London Covington), his beloved daughter.
Opening on a very subdued note, 892 rapidly amps up its stakes, yet somehow still remains glacial in its pacing. An easy twenty minutes, or so, could have been trimmed. An aspect that is very successful is its building of tension, which will undoubtedly force those watching to the edge of their seats, or couches if watched at home. Frequent cuts to snipers as they scope any movement outside the bank forces viewers to become involuntarily complicit, as Brian’s oppressors move in on what could be his final moments. As aforementioned, 892’s tragic story is full of dramatic potential given the volatility of its premise and how seriously the US government takes bomb threats. When the film is at its peak, it’s frankly just scary to watch.
In spite of its rough edges, Abi Damaris Corbin’s latest effort is still a solid retelling of Brian Easley’s poignant tale, one that must be known to all. The film boasts an excellent John Boyega, who plays Brian’s varying emotions, both the subdued and the explosive, with great control. When looking at its technicalities, everything holds its ground. Corbin’s collaboration with Sorry To Bother You cinematographer Doug Emmett sees some interesting choices being made. The color palette of 892 is mostly pleasing to the eyes, it’s a mixture of blues and yellows, while the shots driven by law enforcement are way more contrasting. The intention is clear, the perspective of the surrounding police brings drama and a sense of separation to the more controlled, softer interior lighting in the bank, allowing space for empathy. It’s only interesting until it feels like a forced aesthetic and stylistic choice that ruptures the flow of the film, much like many other things that hold 892 back from total greatness.