The East

The East photo starrating-4stars.jpgSarah (Brit Marling) works for a private security firm in Washington DC that gathers intelligence against eco-terrorists. Her agency is employed by big corporations under fire for endangering the health of people and/or the environment. This includes industries like oil refineries, pharmaceuticals, etc. Sarah is selected as an undercover agent to infiltrate an anarchist group known as The East. Posing as one of them she endeavors to gain knowledge and report back to her bosses at the bureau. The subsequent information will be used to make arrests.

A majority of the cast have fully developed personalities. What makes The East so captivating is the perceptive screenplay.  Credit  star Brit Marling who co-writes and produces with director Zal Batmanglij, the same duo responsible for 2011’s Sound of My Voice. As our lead protagonist Sarah, she’s an appealing presence, smart and attractive, capable of handling herself in rough situations . She prays for guidance to do what is right and acts with her conscience. We experience the faction through her eyes, judging everything she experiences. It’s a carefully modulated window into a world not many have experienced. As she extracts information / develops friendships, these characters become complex individuals. Alexander Skarsgård is their cultish leader. To emphasize the point, he sports Jesus-like hair and beard. We’re first introduced to him at a dinner scene involving straitjackets. It’s a memorable introduction to his methods. He has earned a dedicated loyalty from his followers. These include Doc (Toby Kebbell) and Izzy (Ellen Page), both of which offer detailed backstories to explain why they’re part of this collective.

When I originally saw the trailer for The East, I figured it would be a “horror” film recounting violent revenge “The East” exacted on evil companies they determined should be taken to task. But the way the plot unfolds it’s more of a character examination balancing the principles of environmental terrorists with those of a corporate spy concerned about their “eye for an eye” mentality.  It’s natural to champion the environment, but hardly anyone would go to the limits of these radicals.  We see these activists operate on the far end on the protester spectrum. They break into a gasoline mogul’s mansion and dump crude oil through the air-conditioning vents. Later they lace the champagne of employees at a drug manufacturer’s party with their own questionable medication. Their extreme behavior is not something most people would advocate. Yet we grow to understand their motivations and their viewpoint. On this converse side, we also appreciate Sarah’s dilemma as she starts to sympathize with her criminal zealots and their alarming objectives. There are some issues. You might say that Brit Marling as Sarah ingratiates herself into the group a bit too easily. Also, the narrative is tidied up at the conclusion in a couple hastily presented scenes that don’t do the nuanced story any favors. But more often than not this portrait is a brilliant study that handles multiple characters with deft and precision. Few films have accomplished this so skillfully in 2013.

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18 Responses to “The East”

  1. GaryLee828 Says:

    Ellen Page is one of my favorite actresses; she was great in “Hard Candy”. It’s good to see her back in a role with some substance as she’s made a string of duds the last couple years. I definitely want to see this one, but unfortunately it hasn’t come to my city yet. Hopefully it will soon and, I’ll let you know what I think. Considering your review, I think I’m going to like it pretty well.

    • It was really satisfying. Ellen Page doesn’t act too often. Inception was within the last few years and of course that wasn’t a dud. And even To Rome with Love had the pretense of being a quality production as Woody Allen’s follow up to Midnight in Paris. Regardless she, as well as everyone else, is really good in this.

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Yeah, “Inception” was good, but she didn’t have a big role; i was referring to “Smart People” and “Whip It”. lol. She also did “Peacock” which didn’t get a theatrical release, but was pretty good. Cilian Murphy gave a great performance in that one! lol.

      • I enjoyed Whip It. Have you seen it? Worth checking out.

  2. Good review Mark. It has themes that are worth making movies about and bringing to people’s attentions, but it loses these elements by the end, and it disappointed the hell out of me. I was tense throughout most of the flick, but it ended in a way that made it seem like everybody involved just crapped out.

    • I felt like the ending was kind of irrelevant. Yeah it could’ve been stronger, but it’s the journey not the destination that makes this so captivating. I really enjoyed it.

  3. Great review, Very intrigued about this one!

  4. Great review Mark. I’ve been hearing a lot of positive things about this film and it sounds like a fascinating story. Whenever you have an undercover agent getting too close to the people he or she is supposed to be investigating, it usually makes for excellent drama. I definitely have to check this one out.

  5. Nice review. This looks like a great cast. Not sure if I’ll get around to it unfortunately…

  6. After the disapointing film that was “Sound Of My Voice” I was not looking forward to this one, but your review made me want to check this out. At least this one looks to have an ending.

  7. This was a little different than I expected. I was very intrigued and thought the characters were very believable. Great acting by all. Impressed that Brit Marley took part in co-writing and producing. 4 stars

  8. Thanks for the review Mark, really looking forward to seeing this one soon!

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