Vassilis Kroustallis reviews 892 film from Sundance Film Festival.
"I'm mad as hell and I cannot take it anymore". Here's the Peter Finch character from Sidney Lumet's' Network (1977), now transferred to a Georgia bank, becoming younger -and much more polite in Abi Damaris Corbin’s tense and superbly acted (even though limited in scope) bank heist thriller '892'.
The real story of Brian Brown-Easley, who walked into a Wells Fargo in Marietta, Georgia, and handed over the clerk a note stating "I have a bomb" is here re-enacted as a stylized quartet exercise; Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega), as shy and apologetic as your next decorated Marine officer has to get what he wants from bank office manager Estel (Nicole Beharie) and Rosa (Selenis Leyva).
As sympathetic as a person can be, Brian Brown Easley has a daughter from his estranged wife Cassandra (Olivia Washington), whom he deeply loves and be as caring as a father can be from a distance. Yet, as hard as he tries, he still cannot get over the fact that the Department of Veteran Affairs withheld his disability allowance from his bank account, a sum of $892.34. He now wants it back -or he blow up the bank instead.
As expected, the setting of this operation is tense, yet Abi Damaris Corbin chooses to infuse it with more fluidity; unlike Lumet's 'Dog Day Afternoon' (1974), here the tension is mostly transferred to the hostages and the outsiders, leaving the main character ample time to explain and get the audience on his behalf. And he does; even the flashbacks are cleverly revealed inside the bank's own settings, as if they were an extension of the process. We do learn about the Iraqi war, Brian's failed attempts to get back his allowance, and the fact that there can be no easy way out of this.
Enter the negotiator (Michael K. Williams, in his last role on the big screen), a determinate and understanding man who, nevertheless has little means to influence the whole rescue operations; the word 'snipers' is heard on the film as early as the first act, and it is a case of predicted tragedy.
Before that, Brian Brown-Easley will make an attempt to make his case on the media; seasoned TV producer Lisa Larson (Connie Britton), the only white character in the film, will also be a most sympathetic one, switching between empathy for his motives and agony for the eventual outcome of his case.
Without a palpable villain (even the FBI people are simply impersonal agents), '892' suffers from an already assumed but cinematically lame verdict for the unjustly accused. Granted that the main character will scarcely proceed into other criminal actions apart from holding the bank staff hostage, it is mostly left to the characters themselves to present more complex portraits on screen. John Boyega is instrumental in providing both the everyday person's cry for their rights being withheld, and at the same time, present sparks of emotion that lead to a full explosion. The rest of the cast is also giving performances that get to the skin of people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The narrative rhythm of the film moves between ebb and flow, providing both the necessary break (such as the scenes between Brian and his daughter) before the big action; in a film where phone communication is everything, Damaris Corbin manages to make it less than formulaic and a thing that matters.
'892' looks mostly a film that counts on general tropes (the person to whom they did wrong, the mother and bank professional who worries about her kid), and we are still left with the question what makes those people special enough -rather than a different specification of the unjustly treated spectrum; yet it is still a well-made film, that brings its point to a secured end; if life is hard for you, brace yourself.
'892' premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival (US Dramatic Competition)