Every year, the United States federal budget generates heated discourse surrounding one line item in particular: military spending. Regularly allocated trillions in funding, the US defense budget has drawn criticism for its unsavory reflection of the nation’s perceived imperialistic and antagonistic priorities. Despite the outsized funding, however, many of the very people who sacrifice themselves in the name of national security face difficulties upon their return to civilian life. That problem lies at the heart of Abi Damaris Corbin’s politically charged thriller 892, in which a veteran takes matters into his own hands when he is denied the financial support he is owed.
Based on a true story, 892 centers on a Black man named Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega), a Marine veteran living in Atlanta. Suffering from mental trauma from his military service in Iraq, he struggles to make ends meet without gainful employment. Barely able to pay the cost of his motel, he faces homelessness. One day, Brian makes a bold decision in response to the denial of his disability cheque due from the Department of Veteran Affairs. With a bomb in tow, he takes control of a bank and claims two employees as hostages, determined to send a message to the world about the injustice he faces.
Even without knowing the real life outcome of this incident, it’s easy to predict that this hostage situation will not end well for Brian. And Corbin clearly knows this, with a screenplay that explicitly and implicitly draws attention to the character’s race and his associated vulnerability. As such, the film struggles to establish the expected suspense in its first half.
With law enforcement officials piling up outside the bank and the growing media interest, Corbin does find ways of piquing our interest outside of the bank setting. As Brian makes his demands via phone conversations, the film showcases its impressive cast of actors, notably the late Michael K. Williams. who turns in a typically engaging performance as an empathetic negotiator within the police force.
This sense of empathy pervades throughout 892 and gives the film its true power. From interactions with Nicole Beharie’s compassionate bank manager, to the sporadic flashback scenes which provide necessary context, Brian’s humanity is never in doubt. Furthermore, John Boyega’s nuanced portrayal is dangerously impulsive yet approachable. Indeed, through Brian’s deep belief in integrity and the justified nature of his simple demands, the film somehow instills a meager sense of hope.
In the end, 892 thus emerges as a poignant character study, rather than the throwback thrillers it falls short of emulating. In doing so, it acts as a tribute to those who have been left behind by America’s inequitable system of governance. And for Brian Brown-Easley in particular, it gives him the attention and more importantly, the respect he deserved.
892 is currently playing Sundance. Head here for more from this year’s festival.