Over the past five years, John Boyega‘s career seemed to be in a worrisome place. The talent that Boyega displayed across his first few films was undeniable, but years of poorly received projects had left him with few genuine opportunities. However, the young actor’s collaboration with Steve McQueen for Small Axe may have been the exact project he needed. With a chance to lead a film, in addition to crafting a unique character grounded in reality, Boyega blew others off the screen. His feature follow-up, 892, continues to build off that momentum. Thanks to Boyega’s subtle performance, he reminds the world why we fell for him in the first place.
From director Abi Damaris Corbin, 892 follows the struggles of Marine veteran Brian Easley (Boyega). Easley struggles to make his rent and support his family. In the act of desperation, he walks into a Wells Fargo, claiming he has a bomb. Suffering from some form of traumatic stress, paranoia, and a lack of resources, the VA’s inability to issue him his disability check has broken him. Through discussions with his hostages (Nicole Beharie & Selenis Leyva), a news producer (Connie Britton), and the hostage negotiator (Michael K. Williams in his final on-screen performance), Easley’s story comes out.
Corbin approaches 892 with empathy for every person who finds their way onto the screen. While there are only a few locations throughout the film, she establishes the geography of each location with precision. This allows her to bounce between the storylines with ease while instantly communicating the mental state of the inhabitants of each. Boyega gets the lion’s share of the screen time, but the way Corbin shoots Beharie and Layva’s emotional day establishes their own underlying PTSD from the incident. It’s a subtle touch that helps us understand that the line of victims did not stop with Easley.
Boyega’s portrayal of Easley quickly communicates its dynamic and layered approach. A simple phone call buys us into the decisions he makes over the next hour and a half. Boyega plays Easley as an empathetic man laced with paranoia after experiencing the horrors of war. Boyega elevates aspects of the script that could easily have been played up to make the role seem showier. Boyega’s restraint in creating a true vision of the man as he existed is both noble and striking. Boyega releases the energy and emotion but never loses Easley’s empathetic nature in any aspect of the film.
The supporting cast also delivers across the board. Williams, who passed away after filming this role, once again showcases his surprising empathy beneath a rough exterior. In his conversations with Boyega, the two bond over shared experiences and frustrations. There’s a warmth in Williams’ eyes, even as he screams at the press or his co-workers. Like Boyega, Williams builds a unique performance that could only come from his particular style and skillset. It’s one last reminder of his greatness and a testament to what he brought to every role.
Beharie and Layva face considerable mental strain on their characters. In their first scenes, they communicate with each other entirely through non-verbals, but every glance delivers a thousand words. After evacuating the bank, they find themselves facing their potential death at the hands of a man who does not appear outwardly dangerous. Beharie gets the more showy role, delivering passionate monologues late in the film. Leyva’s performance can easily be overlooked, yet she captures a palpable fear in some of the quieter moments of 892. The two women are integral to the film’s success and help 892 differentiate itself from many Dog Day Afternoon clones.
With excellent performances and a good screenplay, 892 opens meaningful discussions on mental illness and veterans’ affairs. The bank scenes and Michael K. Williams will stick with audiences all year. More than any other aspect, Boyega’s intricate depiction of Easley should keep the film relevant. It’s a gorgeous depiction of a man trying to shed light on how he’s been wronged by institutions. This is a simple but effective theme that carries throughout the film.