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USA 2013
Directed by
Zal Batmanglij
116 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars

The East

Synopsis:  A former FBI agent (Brit Marling), now a private contractor for a security firm, is tasked to find and infiltrate The East, a secretive eco-terrorist group who have stated that they are going to punish a group of corporations for their crimes. The corporations are understandably nervous…

At this point, I think I’m willing to say I’ll watch anything Brit Marling is involved with. She’s 3 for 3 now and this time the writing backs up the acting. I had my quibbles about both The Sound Of My Voice and Another Earth, but The East is an excellent and topical thriller full of clever moments and interesting characters that marks both co-writer Marling and writer-director Zal Batmanglij’s entry into larger budgets and more complex stories.

Like a far more angry version of The Yes Men, The East is an anarchist collective that target companies for very specific crimes that they have gotten away with. Things like releasing medicines known to have lethal side effects or poisoning rivers with toxic outflow. They operate on the theory of an eye for an eye, ensuring that CEOs and other high level executives feel the exact effects of the things they tried to hide or profit from. It’s this righteous vengeance that initially has you on the side of the activists, but smartly the film quickly muddies the waters by questioning the motives of the group. The East are not some group of ferals who have read too much Naomi Klein, they’re a bunch of rich kids who have become disillusioned when they;ve understood the corruption that underpins their lives. They’re working out some complex issues and willingly hurting large numbers of people to achieve their catharsis. You don’t completely lose sympathy with them, but the absolutism leaves Sarah in a bit of a bind. Because of course she’s going to be transformed by her experiences, leaving her sympathising with the people she’s attempting to bring down.

There’s a lot of tense moments, with a particularly impressive scene, done in absolute silence, coming early on. The amount of invention on display flips the film from a standard thriller into something much more compelling. In addition the cast has been well chosen. With names like Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Skarsgard and Ellen Page, the quality of the performance isn’t in doubt. But it’s how Marling and Batmanglij handle the final moments of the film that sold me. In The Sound Of My Voice they tried to have a bet either way. They’ve developed a lot since then, and instead move what seems like a binary option into something more surprising. It left me impressed, and eager to see what they do next. The East is a ripper little thriller, definitely worth your time.




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