The East is a gripping and profound film featuring an tremendously talented and convincing cast.
I’ll admit that the main reason I was interested in The East was due to it starring Ellen Page, though the story did also appeal to me. I had not seen Zal Batmanglij’s previous thriller, Sound of My Voice, so I went in blind in regards to his style. However, I was thoroughly impressed. The East is Batmanglij’s second Sundance release and I’d recommend almost everyone to see it, but don’t go expecting epicness as you may be disappointed, instead acknowledge that it’s a morally complex ‘we are the revolution’, gripping and profound film featuring an tremendously talented and convincing cast.
Sarah Moss (Brit Marling) is a private intelligence operative hired by a firm titled Hiller Brood. Her first big mission set by her power hungry boss (Patricia Clarkson), requires her to infiltrate an anarchist group called The East. Her main objective is to convince the members she is a genuine supporter of their movement in order to extract names, locations and their personal agendas in order to shut them down before the FBI gets involved.
To me this was a very different take on the ‘undercover special ops’ typical plot that I’ve seen previously in films – you believed Sarah’s intentions were innocent and that she was there to stop these individuals from being sent to prison, rather than exposing the group as hardened criminals. The way in which Batmanglij approached this was to study Freeganism (the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded) alongside co-writer and actress Marling as to further understand and deepen the actors that portray the anarchist’s, commitment to an anti-consumerist lifestyle. By doing so, you get a real sense of truth and dedication from the cast towards their cause, which brings to light the difficult moral choices Sarah and the audience have to make throughout the film.
Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) who is the founder of The East is very hesitant to give Sarah responsibility in the tasks that they set themselves (referred to in the film as ‘jams’). Initially, Benji does not believe Sarah is as free as they need her to be in respect to how she lives her life, and that her reasons for being around is not to support their movement. One thing leads to another and Sarah is asked by Izzy (Ellen Page – Benji’s second in command) to perform duties to help secure the successful completion of a major jam – one close to the members hearts. In order to play a part in this mission however, she is not allowed to know the details about what they will be doing, only that she has to distract a certain man. When the night is over the group commend her for her efforts. As they begin to trust Sarah they end up explaining to her what they do and why they do it.
Throughout the film The East demonstrates an outstanding ability to take you on several different emotional journeys and intense adventures. There may be a few flaws within the narrative structure, where there seem to be missing sections of information in certain scenes. In some cases this is a good thing, but here it made the film feel a little off balance. Overall, The East did not disappoint my expectations and actually exceeded my expectations on almost all accounts. I left the cinema with a thousand things to talk about and nearly all were very positive. Also, the soundtrack was amazing, something I should have mentioned earlier, but I’m saying it now!