by Becky Gant and Terry Lewis, published on July 4, 2013|
The East is the latest film from the Zal Batmanlij (Sound of my Voice) and Brit Marling (Another Earth) team, who are fast becoming names to watch. This is perhaps why the film has attracted some interesting names Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), Ellen Page (Juno) and Patricia Clarkson (Easy A) who all deliver great performances under Zals character focused direction.
The film follows former FBI agent Jane (Marling) as she goes undercover for a private intelligence firm in order to infiltrate anarchist group The East, who have been attacking a-list corporate names with a taste of their own medicine and publicly outing their secrets online. Living a double life as homeless drifter Sarah Moss she manages to find her way into the secretive group and learns first hand of the personal reasons behind their attacks, as well as immersing herself in their unusual lifestyle. The closer to them she gets the more she cant deny the effect its having on her own assumptions about the system and her role in it, as well as the emotional attachments she is forming with the groups members; especially its charismatic leader Benji (Skarsgard). Eventually she begins to question which side of this fight she is on, and who she can trust a system that is fundamentally broken, or the people who are fighting so hard to change it?
Marlings creative input in her films (having joint writing credits for this, Sound of my Voice and Another Earth) give her a great sense of the characters and their story. This, combined with her natural charisma on screen, make for a performance that is mesmerizing at times. Her character is a great central point for the film. The movie handles subjects of poetic justice, but by seeing it through the eyes of someone who is literally on the fence, it is not attempting to sway or romanticise the movement. Even by the movies end it is clear that the film is not encouraging or celebrating one specific view on the subject matter, but encouraging you to see ALL sides and come to your own conclusions.
The rest of the cast are also fantastic. Skarsgard brings to life Benji (the leader of The East), who at first appears like a peaceful and balanced religious cult leader but is soon revealed to be a deeply conflicted and scarred man, with a bitter dedication to the cause. The enigmatic way that Skarsgard portrays the character creates a great sense of mystery and he plays the almost shameless man in a completely unabashed way.
Zals greatest talent as a director is ensuring that the story remains character driven rather than becoming absorbed in the plot which is not always easy to do with an almost espionage thriller style film. There are still twists and turns, but the characters stories dictate them rather than being included as simply plot devices.
The trailers may have mis-led a few to believe it would be a bit more of a thrill ride. There is a great build of tension and mystery throughout the film, although it does have some pacing issues and lingers a bit on scenes that could have really been trimmed down. However, there are a number of lighter moments (like the groups strange version of spin the bottle) and it never feels too pessimistic about the world, despite its subject matter touching on so many issues of injustice within society.
The East is definitely an immersive experience, and one that makes you think without being pretentious or over-baring with its subject matter. Its strength is its tangibility through both the ease of empathy with the characters and their plight, and its directional tone. Its definitely worth a watch whether you are a follower of the creative teams work or not, as long as youre not expecting it to be an action packed thriller.
Rating: 8 out of 10