Review by Sean Boelman
Some of the buzzier titles to screen at Sundance are always the star-driven films, and while some are great, others end up being movies that are just alright but are elevated by their cast. Abi Damaris Corbin’s 892 is an entertaining thriller which turns into something genuinely memorable thanks to John Boyega’s great turn.
The film follows a Marine veteran struggling to reintegrate into society as he holds up a bank in a desperate attempt to get his voice heard. Although the movie is based on a true story, it plays out in a very Hollywood-friendly manner, hitting a lot of the genre’s typical beats and full of overly sentimental moments to hammer home the film’s message.
This is definitely a very tense movie, but it still plays out in a way very similar to other films that have come in the past. Corbin and co-writer Kwame Kwei-Armah do a good enough job of establishing the stakes for the audience to really get invested in the movie and get caught up in its suspense.
Corbin’s approach to directing the film is competent but conventional. It’s mostly a single-room thriller, with most of the action occurring in and around the bank with the exception of the introduction and a few brief cutaways. And the movie does a very good job of making the audience feel the sense of claustrophobia that really drives the suspense forward.
There is a lot of potential in the film for it to be a commentary on the wrongdoing of the US military towards its veterans, but this feels like it was used more as context than out of a legitimate interest in it. It’s frequently discussed how the protagonist is motivated by his veteran’s benefits being stolen from him, but the movie never really discusses it substantially.
The methods of characterization used in the script are very straightforward, but it is effective at doing what the film intends to accomplish. The use of the protagonist’s wife and daughter to create an emotional connection to the character may be low-hanging fruit, but it gives the viewer that necessary in-point to the story.
That said, this is a movie that really banks on the talents of its cast to work. Without strong performers in the roles, it would have been another dime-a-dozen thriller. John Boyega does some exceptional work here, bringing an intense humanity to a role that easily could have been exaggerated. And in the supporting cast, Nicole Beharie shines as one of the hostages, and the late Michael K. Williams is strong as the police negotiator.
892 is a decent movie all-around, but John Boyega is the reason it works so well as it does. It’s a palatable, mainstream film that deals with some important issues somewhat shallowly, so it should be an easy pickup for release later this year.
892 screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, which runs virtually from January 20-30.