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Sundance movie review: ‘892’ a powerful true story with moving John Boyega, Michael K. Williams performances

1/5

Sundance movie review: '892' a powerful true story with moving John Boyega, Michael K. Williams performances

Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega) takes teller Rosa Diaz (Selenis Leyva) hostage in “892.” Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 21 (UPI) — A hostage situation is inherently dramatic because it is a structured crisis that is virtually guaranteed to end in tragedy for someone involved. 892, which premiered virtually at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, tells the true story of Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega), who held up a bank in 2017.

Brian walks into Wells Fargo and passes teller Rosa Diaz (Selenis Leyva) telling her he has a bomb. He actually wants her to sound the alarm and call 911. Manager Estel Valerie (Nicole Beharie) recognizes the body language and sends as many customers and coworkers out of the bank as she can.

Brian is a Marine veteran who says his disability check was stolen. He’s demanding the money he’s owed to pay his rent and care for his wife (Olivia Washington) and daughter (London Covington).

892 builds slowly as law enforcement arrives and Brian sets the rules for what he’ll allow his hostages to do. Brian is apologetic to the employees for putting them in this situation, but he also won’t wait for the cops to stall him. Brian ends up talking to a TV reporter (Connie Britton) before negotiator Eli Bernard (Michael K. Williams) talks to him.

The amount Brian lost is so small it easily conveys the point that such small amounts can be life or death. Some of us could give Brian the amount he needs out of our pockets, and yet without it he has to resort to threatening lives.

And it’s small enough for the VA to release the funds for the sake of ending the conflict, but of course protocols wouldn’t allow that. Law enforcement couldn’t allow anyone to pay a hostage taker, lest it set precedent. So, this situation is layered with drama.

892 explains the VA issues through the hostage drama. The endgame is always the stakes of what Brian needs and how he can get it through the system or around it, so it’s never a direct lecture on the VA. However, when the film reveals the reason the VA held up his check, it’s bound to elicit frustration.

Boyega is intense and sincere in his portrayal of Brian. Williams shows how Bernard connects with Brian. He’s not phony, but he strategically keeps Brian cool while he works to release as many hostages as possible.

Beharie shows Valerie’s resolve as someone who’s been through this before, and vulnerability as it is nonetheless scary every time. Rosa is more overtly scared as the one in direct contact with Brian, and Leyva conveys that believably.

892 is director Abi Damaris Corbin’s first feature film. She steadily builds the tension without sensationalizing Brian’s story or preaching about the underlying issues. You can read about what ultimately happened to Brian, but 892 lets you feel it.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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