Real-life mechanics hamper the demands of drama in “892,” though they do provide the opportunity for memorable performances and smooth, engaging cinematics.
Telling the story of a Gulf War veteran pushed to the brink who takes two bank workers hostage because of his frustrations with the Veterans Administration, this is a film that hits some narrative bumps in along the way without diminishing his harsher observations on race, policing, and the treatment of veterans.
Regardless of “892’s” storytelling flaws, however, this is undeniably an impressive feature debut for co-writer and director Abi Damaris Corbin, who gets a great job from a cast of performers from prominent, including the late Michael Kenneth Williams in one of his last roles.
In the film‘s opening sequence, Damaris Corbin and co-writer Kwame Kwei-Armah immediately cast Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega) as a man marginalized by society, following him on a long drive through Atlanta on backroads. clearly designed for cars and not pedestrians. (It’s a trope that was once reserved for movies about Los Angeles, but more and more modern cities have been designed to exclude people on foot.) He’s clearly romantically involved with his young daughter but can’t stand himself. allow more minutes to be added to his phone when he runs out in the middle of their conversation.
He’s financially desperate when he walks into a Cobb County bank in Wells Fargo and calmly passes a note to cashier Rosa (Selenis Leyva, “Orange is the New Black”) saying he has a bomb. Bank manager Estel (the gorgeous Nicole Beharie, “Miss Juneteenth”) can read Rosa’s panic from across the hall, and she quietly urges other customers and employees to leave the building, immediately. Only Rosa and Estel remain behind, and Brian urges them to call 911.
He wants fire trucks, news networks, jobs, but the nonchalant 911 operator can’t even find a negotiator for him. It’s not until Brian calls local news producer Lisa (Connie Britton) that he can get enough public attention to explain why he’s doing this in the first place: the VA seized his check for a bogus debt to a for-profit tech school he attended. on the GI Bill, and the loss of that money will send him into homeless misery, not that the maze of office bureaucracy cares or offers any practical solutions.
It’s hard to tell a story of hostages in a bank without mentioning “Dog Day Afternoon”, but Damaris Corbin shows himself capable of innovating, in particular by showing rather than telling. As Brian recounts the incidents that brought him to this day, cinematographer Doug Emmett’s camera sweeps around him as the bank imperceptibly becomes the VA office, in an almost invisible transition to flashback.
And while the film never takes a blatant stance on the racial politics of the hostage-taking (where not only Brian but also the two bank workers are people of color), it’s still clear that negotiator Eli ( Williams) and other colored cops are more interested in patiently bringing about a non-violent resolution, while white cops, including the police chief, are more concerned with tying things together quickly, whether or not Brian dies in the process. . (Jeffrey Donovan, who has one of contemporary cinema’s biggest sneers, comes across as a superior who constantly undermines Eli’s efforts.)
Williams and Boyega’s phone interaction brings ‘892’ some of its most dramatically powerful scenes, but Leyva and Beharie are given grace and emotional weight in roles that other films would have dismissed as supporting characters. . Estel de Beharie does her best to take charge of the situation, but she also faces terror (at one point she writes her young son a moving farewell letter on her phone) and empathy ( once his captor reveals his motives), according to Brian. mood and behavior during the day.
Where the demands of telling a true story collide with drama comes in the final act of “892”; what would seem to be the end point of the systemic racism implicit throughout the film instead hinges on the actions of a rogue participant, which undermines the power of the story and its message. Compared to another recent tale of a maddening and tragic police confrontation, “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain,” “892” sees its impact diminished by the end.
It’s a minor setback, however, in a film that offers such bounty from such a talented cast. It’s a film that puts a lot of work into the talented actors, and their efforts could perhaps help do justice to the real Brown-Easley family, who after five years, according to the film, are still awaiting a resolution from the VA. .
“892” makes its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.