Posts Tagged ‘Nicole Beharie’

John Boyega

“BREAKING” My rating: B (In theaters)

103 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

At some point early in the riveting “Breaking” most viewers are going to say to themselves that John Boyega is the new Denzel.

By the time the film is over they’ll be thinking that Denzel is the old John Bpyega.

The British Boyega has covered a lot of territory in just a few years on screen, from being a regular in the “Star Wars” universe to playing an alien-battling London punk in “Attack the Block” and an African American security guard with a conscience in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit.”

If starring as a rebel Imperial storm trooper made Boyega a household name in some quarters, his performance in “Breaking” should sling him into the ranks of  Oscar contenders.  

As Brian Brown-Easley, a real-life Marine veteran undergoing a mental-emotional meltdown, Boyega gives a performance that is by turns subtle, in your face and heartbreaking.

For its first 30 minutes writer/director Abi Damaris Corbin’s film is basically a three-character drama unfolding in real time.  In a setup that will remind many of “Dog Day Afternoon,”  Boyega’s character walks into an Atlanta-area bank and passes a teller a note announcing that his backpack contains a bomb.

But it’s not a robbery.  We soon learn that Brian is at the end of his rope because his monthly veteran’s benefit has been seized by a collection agency to cover the unpaid tuition incurred in his brief and disastrous attempt at a college education. As his last stand he’s decided to hold the bank hostage until the media gets his story out and he gets his money back.

As hostage situations go, this one is unsettling for its civility.  Brian lets everyone in the bank leave save for a cashier (Selenis Leyva) and the branch manager (Nicole Beharie). And despite waving around what he claims is a detonator (looks like he assembled it with parts from the junk drawer), Brian fights his own peaking anxiety to present himself as polite and non-threatening…or at least as non-threatening as one can be in these circumstances.

In fact, Brian finds an ally of sorts in the manager, who turns down an opportunity to escape because she figures she’s all that’s between this desperate fellow and a sniper’s bullet.  The cashier, on the other hand, is perennially poised on the edge of hysteria.

Little by little the screenplay by Corbin and Kame Kwei-Armah introduces other characters. There’s a police hostage negotiator (the late Michael Kenneth Williams) who must work his away around a shoot-first commanding officer (Jeffrey Donovan) and  a new police chief determined to establish his bona fides as tough on crime.

Michael Kenneth Williams

Brian manages to get a call through to a news producer (Connie Britton) at a local TV station.

And periodically he rings up his estranged wife (Olivia Washington) and their precocious young daughter (London Covington), whose home has been invaded by a couple of grimly unhelpful FBI agents. 

“Breaking” moves with a sort of grim inevitability, balancing fear and suspense against Brian’s desperation.  And while everyone in the film is solid, Boyega’s performance is a tour de force as it shifts back and forth between depression, hope, anger, guilt…there are few emotional bases this young actor doesn’t tag here.

It’s one of those performances you’ll want to see twice, just to figure out how he pulled it off.

| Robert W. Butler

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Nicole Beharie, Alexis Chikaeze


99 minutes | No MPAA rating

“Miss Juneteenth” is simultaneously a heartbreaking character study, a domestic drama and an almost documentary look at a specific community.

It is fueled by a subtle and unforced script by director Channing Godfrey Peoples, utterly believable supporting performances and a riveting lead turn from actress Nicole Beharie, who after a decade guesting on TV series makes her case for movie stardom.

Peoples has set her debut feature in an environment with which she is intimately familiar — a black community in Ft. Worth TX. It’s a world of black cowboys and barbecue and the annual Miss Juneteenth pageant, in which one beautiful and talented young African American woman will be crowned and handed a tuition-free scholarship to the black college of her choice.

In 2004 Turquoise Jones (Beharie) wore that victorious tiara, hoping to join the ranks of lawyers, doctors and educators who were past winners.

It didn’t quite work out. Today she is a waitress/janitor at a bar and rib joint, a job that just barely keeps a roof over her head and that of her 15-year-old daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze).

But Turquoise dreams — intensely if not realistically — that Kai will succeed in not only winning the title of Miss Juneteenth but in realizing the life her mama missed out on.

A lesser film would have made the movie a tragedy about the mother trying to force her offspring into a situation in which the child has no interest.  Kai is your average teen; she dreams of joining her schools’ booty-bumping dance squad, and can only roll her eyes at the demure, old-school beauty pageant behavior demanded by the Miss Juneteenth organizers.

Indeed, Turquoise is so controlling that she won’t let her daughter venture forth in shorts and T-shirt lest “somebody from Juneteenth see you like that.”

Kai could be forgiven for going rebel on her mother.  Thing is, the love between these two women  is so intense that despite her reservations (and the limits of her talents and poise), Kai slogs through the indoctrination and rehearsals out of sheer loyalty to Mama.


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