Review: The East
A newly hired intelligence operative is sent to infiltrate a group of anarchists that have been targeting corporations with public attacks. As Sarah delves deeper into the group, her ethics are compromised and her devotion challenged. She risks being detected by the group, but also lets her old life slip away.
Who’s in it?
Brit Marling is incandescent as Sarah, a morally conflicted yet savvy operative. Alexander Skarsgard is the leader of an anarchist group known as The East, living and plotting alongside Ellen Page, Toby Kebbel, Shiloh Fernandez, and others.
In a film where all the main characters are certain of their purpose in life, it’s hard to know who is right and who is wrong. Zal Batmanglij directs a film he wrote alongside creative partner and star Brit Marling, and it’s a simply story that is divisive and complex. With fully fleshed-out characters, led by Sarah, a determined, clever firecracker who hides everything behind her hollow eyes, and sure about herself until she isn’t, The East is an immersive experience that will challenge you to pick a side.
It’s not easy to do, especially since our allegiances are clear early on. It’s an Us-versus-Them mentality, and both sides are amorphous at best. Sarah’s side as the film opens is with that of a security firm, looking to infiltrate and ultimately destroy a group of eco-terrorists who have been plaguing some very rich corporations – drug companies, oilers, and others who hurt the environment.
Sarah wants to do well in her new job, one that has her lie to her boyfriend, hop trains, evade police, and even painfully hurt herself in a show of true dedication. When she finally makes her way to the mysterious anarchist collective, Sarah learns, just as the audience does, the East isn’t necessarily as evil as they seem.
Well, maybe they are, but maybe they just have a different view on the world. A chilling dinner scene makes that obvious, and Sarah is left the outsider. We learn appearances can be deceiving – in a quite literal manner too as the group cleans up nicely for a ‘jam’ at a lavish party (anarchists Alexander Skarsgard and Ellen Page look good regardless).
The film’s first half, one of discovery, gives way to a taut second half that barrels along with action, heightened drama, yet the same amount of uncertainty. It races at an unsteady speed at times, moving more into the mainstream as it heads towards an ending that is thankfully uncompromising. Subtle, smart, and led by a most captivating lead in Brit Marling, The East is a welcome thriller in a summer of mindless entertainment.
Should You See It?
Yes – it’s more original than any, and better than most this season.
“Those side effects listed on the side of the bottle – that’s how they rape you, in broad daylight.”