The second Friday of the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival was spent catching up virtually with one of the titles that eluded me during its initial screening, 892. 892 came out of Sundance with a lot of buzz, particularly around its cast, and it seemed a good bet.
892 is based on the true story of Brian Brown-Easley, a Marines veteran, who was discharged from the service and then was largely unsupported by the department of Veterans Affairs. It reached a breaking point when his benefits were garnished unfairly and he walked into a bank one day and announced that he had a bomb. A tense hostage crisis ensued.
No doubt, dramatic liberties were taken by 892 in the adaptation of that story. This is fiction, not a documentary. But, 892 seems well intentioned throughout, almost to a fault. It’s not that the issues that the film raises aren’t important or even that controversial, it’s that they seem to be a crutch the film leans on to make up for a thriller without much tension or excitement. The thriller elements are mostly subpar and it’s never able to satisfactorily answer questions like “Why don’t the hostages just walk out when Brian Brown-Easley walks into the bathroom for minutes at a time?” As a thriller 892 really doesn’t work.
What does work, and makes 892 worth a viewing, is the all around solid acting. John Boyega is given a strong showcase for his talents as Brian Brown-Easley and absolutely holds the screen. Boyega has been pretty great in everything without STAR WARS in the title and he’s no exception here. Boyega manages to find the man in the mental illness and delusion and manages to make the character compelling instead of someone merely being dragged along by events. He’s never presented as a monster, only someone who wants to tell his story. Even if this latest scheme is doomed to failure. Despite all of that, Boyega manages to portray Brian Brown-Easley withnotes of tenderness towards his daughter and even his hostages. And even find some humor in the situation. It’s a stellar performance. It’s well supported to with the late Michael K. Williams in his last performance grabbing the screen with his natural charisma as the negotiator on the the other side and Nicole Behari, as one of the hostages, projects bravery and sympathy. Connie Britton as a news producer also projects professionalism and sympathy, although without much to actually do in the story.
As a thriller, 892 doesn’t work. As an actor’s showcase, it does. Even if it doesn’t really present a fully articulated call to action, 892 manages to make the characters compelling enough to function at least as a spotlight on a problem.
892 plays once more at the Milwaukee Film Festival on Monday, May 2, 2022 at 9:30 pm at the Oriental Theatre and as part of the virtual component of the film festival. The 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 21, 2022 until May 5, 2022. You can get tickets at mkefilm.org.