Although based on a true story, 892 makes use of the fact that many viewers will be unfamiliar with the original story. We open with a broken down man in Atlanta walking through the more dreary parts of town, which doesn’t really narrow it down but I have no doubt many will recognize a few places like I did having grown up just thirty minutes away (an hour with traffic). The man is Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega) who is trying to finish a conversation with his daughter on the phone before it ends suddenly. He’s low on money but promises more is coming soon. The next day he walks into a Wells Fargo bank and hands the teller a note. He has a bomb and will use it if he doesn’t get what he wants.
The setup is fairly simple and it doesn’t need a lot of fluff. Many know how this story ends and those unfamiliar can still guess, but the turns to get there are effective because they are anchored by powerful performances. Boyega in particular is multi-layered and passionate, conveying pain and a determination that could make stone melt. He often isn’t speaking while still saying everything we need to know with his eyes.
We don’t know what Brian will truly do at first but he makes it abundantly clear as he lets most of the people go and converses with the two remaining hostages Estel and Rosa (Nicole Benarie & Selenis Leyva respectively) like grade-school teachers. As supposed robbers go, he is quite polite, even taking a message for an employee down on paper to go over later. It isn’t long before the two women are using their wits and honesty to simultaneously escape while keeping Easley calm. Both ladies carry the tension with Boyega in a balancing act that keeps going until the plot moves outside of the bank.
As a majority of the film takes place in the same setting, the technical skills are essential and writer-director Abi Demaris Corbin establishes the space efficiently. Police gather outside and among them is the late Michael Kenneth Williams as a negotiator with a good soul. His is the other standout performance here as the situation escalates and he tries to connect with Brian, pulling at our heartstrings with simple actions like buying a pack of cigarettes. You can feel years of sad case endings embedded in his soul and although he approaches the case with a spark of hope for others, he clearly holds none for himself. Sadly the momentum is lost a bit as more sets are added because until that point, the movie focused on the claustrophobia of Brian’s situation. It’s as if the formula had to be followed instead of allowing the film to fully invest in the character study it openly explores at first.
When Brian contacts newscaster Lisa Larson (played realistically by Connie Britton) it again is to humanize a man that simply doesn’t know what to do. In an attempt to preserve accuracy to the original news story, one may feel that some of the dialogue is cliché or underwhelming, but it’s a sacrifice I can understand. One of the biggest points of the film is to show how broken the American Way is, with systems meant to keep people going in circles until they run out of energy. Does it accomplish this goal? Absolutely. It takes the commonplace crime story and holds it in place while peeling back one of the more unpleasant facets of how the poor and injured are treated. It honors the tragic source material and is a competent thriller; one of the highlights of Sundance this year.
Follow HorrOrigins on Social Media