$892 was all the Department of Veterans Affairs owed Brian Brown-Easley. It was his disability payment and the smallest of drops in the ocean compared to the sums they usually handle. But when the former Marine took the law into his own hands to reclaim the missing money, he paid the ultimate price. This is no fiction. They’re true events from 2017, which 892 uses them to put the treatment of former servicemen and women in the spotlight.
Living in a motel in Atlanta, separated from his wife and missing his little girl, Brown-Easley’s monthly payment from the VA has gone astray and he’s facing both unemployment and eviction. Stonewalled by the department, and running out of options, he walks into the Wells Fargo bank like any other customer, withdraws $25 and then hands the cashier a piece of paper stating he has a bomb. With all the customers and most of the staff evacuated from the building, he holds two cashiers hostage in an effort to publicise his plight and get the money he so badly needs. All he’s asking for is what he’s owed and, despite an offer from one of the cashiers, he won’t accept it from the bank. Meanwhile, police marksmen, emergency services and the media are all gathering outside and he’s talking on the phone to a negotiator ….
When a war comes to an end, it can mean the start of another one, still fought by the same people, but in a civilian setting, re-adjusting to the kind of life that we all take for granted. On active duty, servicemen and women have experienced things we can hardly begin to imagine, but when they return what awaits them? Some are able to make a new start – negotiator Eli Barnard (Michael K Williams in what was to be his last appearance) is a former Marine, but others like Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega) find it harder to cope, struggling with numerous issues, money and mental health among them. But what is clear right from the start is that Brian is not a fearsome criminal, but a decent man driven to the edge by the VA’s mis-handling of his complaint. Yet, despite his circumstances and the constantly rising, sweat-inducing tension of the siege, he’s the most courteous of hostage takers, looking out for the cashiers’ welfare and even taking a phone call from an unsuspecting customer and passing on a message.
Written and directed by Abi Damaris Corbin, and co-written by Kwame Kwei-Armah, the story is based on an article about the case by journalist Aaron Gell, published just a year after the events took place. Corbin creates a brittle atmosphere inside the bank, allowing us just fleeting glimpses of Brian’s time on active service and relying on the acting talents of her lead actor to show the depth of his trauma. Boyega is more than up to the task, with an uncharacteristically gaunt face and haunted look in his eyes, but with more than enough humanity to treat his hostages with consideration. Williams’s swan song is equally compassionate, a negotiator who quickly establishes common ground with his fellow former Marine and is his biggest ally, despite facing constant sniping and criticism from one of his fellow officers.
They’re well supported by Nicole Beharie (also in Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul at this year’s Sundance) and Selenis Leyva as the two bank tellers who face their life or death situation in very different ways. The hostage drama is a familiar format and, while this may not become a classic, it’s certainly a worth entry in the canon, primarily due to Boyega’s impressive and commanding performance. What makes the events on screen even more tragic is that, five years later, Brown-Easley’s family still have not received the money.
Thriller | Cert: tbc | Sundance Film Festival 2022 | Dir. Abi Damaris Corbin | John Boyega, Michael K Williams, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, Olivia Washington, Jeffrey Donovan.