by Jeffrey Stephenson, Reviews Editor, published on July 7, 2013|
A gripping ideological thriller, Brit Marling again teams up with Zal Batmanglij to deliver one of the best films in the first half of 2013.
Marling stars here as Jane, a former FBI agent who has been hired by a firm to investigate an eco-terrorist cell known as The East that targets corporations that intentionally harm the environment for monetary gain. The film opens with a jam on a CEO of an oil company that skirted safety regulations to save money and ended up spilling millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. Tony Hayward, watch your back. The East breaks into the CEOs home and fills his duct work with oil, so all throughout the house oil pours out of his air conditioning vents, turning his home into a giant oil spill. Jane bleaches her hair and goes by the name Sarah to try and infiltrate The East and help bring them to justice.
Sarah is able to get inducted into the cell through Luca (Shiloh Fernandez, doing his best Phoenix brother impersonation) after she helps him escape from the cops while being stowaways on a train. Here is where we first meet Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), the charismatic leader (just dont call him that). As a social experiment, they all dress up in straitjackets before eating in order to teach Sarah a valuable lesson about sharing.
Why is it that self-righteousness always goes hand in hand with Resistance Movements? snaps Sarah at Benji, as she perfectly describes the group in a nutshell. The East is very much a cult-like commune with Benji as the head. They have their own formerly licensed doctor (Toby Kebbell), who quit practicing after a bad reaction to an experimental (And coming soon to a pharmacy near you) antibiotic. They also get their own food from dumpster diving behind supermarkets that throw out still-fresh fruits and vegetables, have community bathing and really annoying Spin-The-Bottle games that seem to come straight from an ultra-liberal college seminar.
Sarah begins to be trusted by most of the group, and is now used to help in the groups jams. Their first jam is to get back at the pharmaceutical company that produced the antibiotic that gave brain damage to Doc. They spike champagne glasses with the drug at a party to celebrate the FDA approving it for the general public. If it is as safe as they say it is, then there would be no problems for them ingesting it themselves. They also target a chemical plant that dumps into a local water supply while living in gated communities far away. Sarah begins to face a personal dilemma as she despises the groups tactics, but sympathizes with their motives. The rest of the movie deals with that conflict leading to a satisfying climax.
Batmangli does a great job directing the script that he co-wrote with Marling, keeping everything moving and engaging while also letting the story progress naturally. It is difficult to portray The East as charismatic as well as creepy, but he does a great job. The script is fantastic, leaving everything morally ambiguous and letting the audience decide for themselves along with Sarah what to believe about The East. The acting is also great, with Marling, Skarsgard, Kebbell, Fernandez and Ellen Page all giving stellar performances to make this film an all-around success.
Conclusion [9 out of 10]
This film may not be for everybody. The self-righteousness of the group could definitely irritate any viewers, and those not inclined to care about environmental issues could despise the films message. However, if you would enjoy a good thriller and a psychological depiction of a cult and extremist group in a season of blockbusters, then you cant do much better than this.