It’s one thing to make a movie about a hostage situation. It’s another effort entirely to tell this story when it’s based on true events, that of Marine veteran Brian Brown-Easley, where director Abi Damaris Corbin has a moral obligation to help the audience understand how he got there. Together, with screenwriter Kwame Kwei-Armah, Corbin makes 892 an admirable attempt at telling Easley’s story, while resorting to familiar thriller tropes.
We are quickly introduced to Brian (John Boyega), enough to know that he’s living in a motel, away from his estranged wife Cassandra (Olivia Washington) and his daughter Kiah (London Covington). We know how important Kiah is to Brian, that he would do anything for her. At the same time, we can sense that this man has already been pushed to the limit and is preparing to do something. What it is, we’re not exactly sure yet, but the look on his face suggests it’s not good.
The next day, he enters a Wells Fargo bank and approaches the teller Rosa (Selenis Leyva), quietly informing her on a piece of paper that he’s carrying a bomb on him. Behind him, as observant as ever is bank manager Estel Valerie (a remarkable Nicole Beharie), who knows all too well what is happening, as she begins to quietly escort everyone out of the bank.
During these first thirty minutes, 892 is nail-biting suspense at its finest. It’s shot and directed like some of the best films in this genre, such as Dog Day Afternoon and Inside Man, but written like a Paul Greengrass movie that tells its true story in real-time, or as film critic Roger Ebert calls it, “in the present tense.” Boyega carries a mixture of pain, desperation, and frustration. He’s there for a reason and is aggravated when not taken seriously. At the same time, he holds a calm, understandable sympathy for Rosa and Estel, constantly apologizing to them both for putting them in such a situation.
The entirety of 892 rests on understanding Brian’s motivation and if anyone can help him. We learn that he was a former Marine, who has been relying on disability checks by the Department of Veteran Affairs every month to get by. And then we discover that one day, the VA took his money without consent or explanation, pushing him to homelessness. That’s when it clicks to us that Brian is not holding up the bank to rob it, but to get his story across. He simply wants his checks back that are owed to him by the VA.
Maintaining Steam and Identifying a Broken System
Once these revelations are provided, the rest of the second act is a matter of waiting to see if Brian’s demands are met. His conversations with the producer of a local TV station (Connie Britton) play more like a subplot than an essential narrative thread, which is a missed opportunity since the media plays a significant role in investigating how and why Brian’s money was denied by the VA. Boyega tries his best in carrying the entire script on his shoulders, and though he gives a visceral performance, his chemistry with characters outside of the bank is hit and miss, making a noticeable part of the second act run out of steam.
Fortunately, the film picks up the pace again when police negotiator Eli Bernard (the late Michael K. Williams) enters the picture. The back and forth dialogue carries as much suspense as it does warmth, as we learn that Eli is also a former Marine and thus shares a connection with Brian. Unlike other hostage thrillers, these moments of negotiation are not about whether or not Brian will do something unhinged. Typically, a thriller with the negotiator being the protagonist would take this route. But our protagonist is Brian Brown-Easley, and the script understands that. And so instead, 892 finds real earnestness between Williams and Boyega – the conversation is about whether they can find common ground and help Brian get what he wants without having him or anyone else get hurt.
And that’s where the tragedy comes, because Brian knows from the very beginning that there’s no turning back from this decision. He is not going to walk out of that bank alive. He just wants people to know, almost as if his story is more important than himself, that he hopes it will be told and shared enough so that no one else relying on the VA will experience what he went through.
892: A Thriller with a Call to Action
In addition to providing all the thrills and intense handheld camerawork that we come to expect out of these kinds of films, 892 comes with an agenda and call to action in mind. It highlights just how much Americans rely on institutions to survive, and how simple errors lead to injustices. Most of all, it shows just how the VA’s failings have done irreparable harm on our veterans. Brian Brown-Easley was not the first veteran affected, and sadly, he won’t be the last.
Tense and heartbreaking, 892 sees John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, and the late Michael K. Williams giving powerhouse performances. While it runs out of steam occasionally as a thriller, it has a lot to say on its mind, with some painfully accurate commentary on America’s systemic failings. It may be billed as a “bank robber/hostage movie,” but Corbin approaches the subject matter with compassion and understanding.
What did you think of 892? Let us know in the comments below!
892 premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2022.
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.