Over the last several years, there have been a number of films that have taken aim at the abuse and mismanagement that has occurred with military veterans in the VA.
In 2017, the film “Thank You For Your Service” highlighted the real-life problem that is ignored by society and our government. 22 veterans commit suicide every day in the United States of America. The high suicide rate has much to do with the fact that the country isn’t not taking care of them when they return home. Many vets sit on waiting lists for months to get basic healthcare and they don’t get the proper mental health treatment when they return home from war.
The filmmakers behind the 2022 movie “Breaking” are using the incompetence of the VA to tell the story of a man who was gunned down in the act of robbing the bank after the VA stiffed him from a payment of $892, a check that meant homelessness and starvation for a man who served his country in war.
John Boyega stars as Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley based on the real-life story of a former Marine Corps veteran in financial trouble. Easley is denied his latest payment from the VA on the grounds that they believe he owes them money. As a result, Easley is on the verge of losing his motel and thus being thrown into the streets. Easley walks into a Wells Fargo bank in Marietta, Georgia, and holds up the bank in an effort that the VA will correct their mistake. Easley’s story gains national coverage but his demise is the take-home of the story.
The film is a near step-by-step reenactment of the 2018 Task & Purpose article “They Didn’t Have to Kill Him” by Aaron Gell. Easley is portrayed as a man who had no intention of robbing the bank and would let the employees go if he decided to detonate the bomb. He just wanted the $892 owed to him by the VA. The recurring theme of the film is that Easley is a man who wants his story to be told and he wants the world to see how he was wronged; however, the movie doesn’t focus on the true problem.
The film positioned Easley’s fate in the race-based narrative that his death was predestined because he was a black man making the argument that he would have survived if he was white. This makes the villain of the film the police department who made the call to take him out moving the focus away from the real problem which was the VA department.
Easley made his way to the VA’s Regional Benefits Office in Atlanta but couldn’t get a resolution to his issue. After contacting the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line Easley was hung up on a few times. The VA dismissed his calls on the grounds of mental illness. The lack of communication from the VA, an experience that is rather common among the majority of US Veterans is the direct cause of the events that occurred.
John Boyega gives one of the best performances of his career in a story you can tell that inspired the actor’s standout performance. The film allows Boyega to show a true range of emotional displays as a former veteran who cares for his family but it’s also suffering from the onset of mental illness. There are a number of great veteran actors in this film including Jeffrey Donovan and the late Michael Kenneth Williams in one of the final performances of his career.
There are a few issues with the structure of the film such as its runtime which allows for some bloated filler that slows down the overall momentum of the movie. Connie Britton is a glaring example of this as her role feels underdeveloped and in some ways pointless to the overall story, but was inserted to stay true to the events of what happened.
There’s also an issue with the film’s ending, the third act drags on and comes to an abrupt end in a way that feels unfulfilled for audiences. The filmmakers focus so much on telling Easley’s story, that they forget to iron out the minor details that would have made it a better film.
On some levels, it feels like Michael Bay would be a far better choice as director to handle a film of this magnitude, seeing what he did with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and “Ambulance” handling similar issues. However, I’m not sure if he would be the right choice to handle the more dramatic aspects of the story.
If the sole purpose of this movie was to tell the story of a man who wanted to be heard and didn’t have the ability to do so, “Breaking” is a film that passes that test with flying colors. The problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs have not gotten any better over the last few years and are only due to get worse. The word powerful is overused in today’s society but this is a film that will leave a lasting impression on moviegoers. It will lead to many moviegoers asking why is it still happening today.