Soldiers swear an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. 892, the tense new bank robbery drama from director Abi Damaris Corbin, shatters any allusions this oath is a two-way street. Based on a 2018 magazine article entitled “‘They didn’t have to kill him’: The death of Lance Corporal Brian Easley” [Aaron Gell, Task&Purpose.com, 9 April 2018] the dramatic thriller 892 is a predictably grim affair. At its center is a towering, unforgettable performance from John Boyega and a sincere yearning to ease the suffering of neglected military veterans.
892 begins at the end of one man’s journey. Yes, there are many harrowing scenes left to play out, but for Brian Brown-Easley (an electrifying John Boyega), it is most certainly the end of the road. Like many military veterans, Brian feels abandoned by his government when he returns stateside. All he has to show for his service in Iraq is a monthly disability check for $892.34 and an emotional condition that requires medication to manage. Demoralized, alone, and pushed to the brink of homelessness when Veterans Affairs erroneously seizes his disability check, Brian walks into a local Wells Fargo bank and hands the teller a note.
“I’ve got a bomb.”
Of course, it’s not about the money. On multiple occasions, the terrified teller Rosa (Selenis Leyva) and poised bank manager Estel (Nicole Beharie) offer to transfer the delinquent $892 into his account. Brian refuses. He wants this act of resistance to draw attention to the plight of neglected veterans. Soon he gets all the attention he can handle, including news media, FBI, SWAT, and an earnest negotiator named Bernard (the great Michael Kenneth Williams in his last role).
It’s difficult to overstate the brilliance of Boyega’s performance. He doesn’t have the luxury of chewing scenery like Al Pacino’s rabblerousing bank robber in the 1975 crime drama, Dog Day Afternoon. His bank robber has to keep his emotions buried or risk dismissal as just another ‘Angry Black Man’. You can see the strain on his face as he struggles to stay hermetically sealed. On the rare occasion when he does lash out, he immediately collects himself and apologizes. Boyega projects restraint, desperation, and dignity even as the crosshairs zero in on him.
Most of the other dramatic elements in 892 don’t quite coalesce, however. The litany of phone calls between Brian and the outside world, though undoubtedly necessary during a real-life standoff, grow repetitive and tedious. Though it’s nice to see Williams one last time, he’s limited to re-enacting the same rapport-building scenes popularized by seemingly millions of such movies and television shows. Also stale is the subplot involving Brian’s ex-wife Cassandra (Olivia Washington), which is perfunctory when compared to the wrenching scenes between Brian and his young daughter Kiah (London Covington). A shared prayer with Kiah just minutes before the harrowing finalé is particularly powerful.
Still, 892 is a compelling watch, thanks to Boyega’s performance and the social ramifications of its story. “I am nothing,” Brian admits, helpless to continue fighting a system that won’t even acknowledge his existence. Perhaps the only thing sadder than Brian’s story is the uncomfortable truth that thousands of America’s military veterans have been similarly destroyed by the circumstances of their abandonment.