Directed by Zal Batmanglij
An operative for an elite private intelligence firm finds her priorities irrevocably changed after she is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations.
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★★★½ review by Esteban Gonzalez on Letterboxd
"Spy on us, we'll spy on you."
The East teams up director Zal Batmanglij with actress Brit Marling once again after their collaboration in Sound of My Voice. Once again they co-wrote the screenplay after having spent some time with several anarchist groups in order to write a believable script. The East is an interesting thriller that had me guessing what was going to happen next. It has its weak moments (the beginning is a little slow and the final act leaves several questions unanswered) but the middle act is very strong and it raises several ethical and moral questions. I loved Marling, Skarsgard, and Page in this film. There were some elements that reminded me a lot of Martha Marcy May Marlene despite this being an anarchist group and not a sect. That film had a much stronger ending, but here the middle act kind of creates a similar atmosphere with the leader of the group (Skarsgard) showing his influence and charisma over the rest. Perhaps this film doesn't work as a psychological character study like that one, but there are some weird things going on inside the group, but in a way you sympathize with them despite their "eye for an eye" philosophy. At the end you are left with a sense of having wanted to see more, but the movie is still entertaining and goes into unknown and unexplored territory. Marling is such a great actress, if she can't find the role she is looking for she doesn't lay down, she simply writes a character she would like to play and does it. Ellen Page is also great in her supporting performance and delivers once again on every scene. The East won't be on my list of top films of the year, but it is still highly recommendable watching!
Jane (Brit Marling) works for an important private intelligence agency run by Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) and is assigned to infiltrate an anarchist group known as The East. Jane has spent the last nine months getting prepared for her assignment by studying the reserved group. They are an eco-terrorist group that publicly attack the CEO's of big corporations such as oil companies or pharmaceutical drug distributors that are aware of the harm they cause and try to cover it up. The East pays these people with the same coin, for instance if a drug has dangerous side effects and these CEO's are paying people off to distribute them, they simply force the same drug on them. Once Jane infiltrates the group, under the covert name of Sarah, she befriends these eco-friendly anarchists who are led by Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). He is a charismatic leader and has the members of the group do strange things like eat food they gather from dumpsters or bathe each other. The other members of the group are Izzy (Ellen Page), Doc (Toby Kebbell), Luca (Shiloh Fernandez), Tess (Danielle MacDonald), and Thumbs (Aldis Hodge). As Jane begins recollecting information she becomes more and more sympathetic towards their cause as opposed to the private firm she works for that is only concerned in defending these rich CEO's.
The East raises a lot of moral questions and lets the audience decide what side to take. It doesn't try to manipulate us into deciding one way or another. We see things through the lead character's eyes as she begins to be influenced by this group. They seem to be fighting for the right cause, but the way they do things through terrorist acts is immoral. Everyone seems to have their heart in the right place. The screenwriters did a decent job with the script creating a tense atmosphere that had me glued to the screen despite the flaws. I wasn't disappointed despite having high expectations for The East. My favorite thing about this movie beside the heavy political eco-friendly message were the performances from the strong cast.
★★★★½ review by br2049 on Letterboxd
i could watch brit marling in ANYTHING: she brings such intensity and earnestness and sincerity to every single character she plays, it's astounding
★★★★ review by Movie Maestro on Letterboxd
"Life is beautiful. Let future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full." - Leon Trotsky
Having just finished watching this film I still don't think everything about it has quite resonated with me. It's still sinking in, but I can say that it has had a profound impact on me. The film definitely makes a statement and is as thrilling and powerful, as it is thought-provoking.
The team of Zal Batmanglij (co-writer/director) and Brit Marling (co-writer/actress) pair once again to make movie magic, this time for The East. The two also collaborated up to make Sound of My Voice in 2011. Brit Marling is quickly proving that she is a talented writer and actress, and while her films may not be commercially successful yet, they have received much critical acclaim. I truly cannot wait to see what these two come up with next. I am stunned that their work has not gained commercial success yet, however they are due. Perhaps their third film will be a charm?
So what is The East about? Well, Marling plays an undercover operative (Sarah) for a private intelligence firm, which is kind of like a CIA-for-hire and their clients are typically major corporations, such as pharmaceutical companies. She is assigned to infiltrate an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks on major corporations.
This anarchist group, which is called The East, strangely resembles a cult, and with every cult a charismatic leader is needed to charm his followers. This group's clear leader is Benji (Alexander Skarsgård).
Why this group is called The East is never clearly state, however one may assume that they are called The East as an antithesis to the capitalist west. This group is about as anti-corporate America as you can get.
This film is filled with a talented cast, including the likes of Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, and Toby Kebbell. And while all the performances in this film are solid, the hero of this film is the writing. Marling and Batmanglij script is a bit of a slow burn that both thrills and draws you in as you cannot help but root for this radical group of not so law abiding citizens. And therein lies the dilemma for Sarah.
Of all the films I have seen this year, this may actually be full of the most substance. While most of the films this year are just full of Hollywood fluff, this is actually a film that means something, says something, and actually matters. Not that I don't like fluff every now and then. I'm not one to turn down cotton candy, but too much sugar is unhealthy, and this film is much more green, and much more healthy. This film is the theatrical equivalent to eating your vegetables. So don't avoid watching this film. Actually, you better watch this, or you may not get your desert!
★★★½ review by Joe on Letterboxd
Exactly the kind of low-key espionage suspenser that I wish came out more often, and it's very tense and engaging up until the goofier elements take hold and a disjointedly pulpy third-act twist takes place. The ending disappoints me too, as most of the true-to-life moral ambiguity of the rest of the movie disappears in a way that even the filmmakers seem vaguely embarrassed by, as it plays out in semi-abstract fashion over the closing credits.
Kind of wanted to have my review just be this:
★★★½ review by Thomas Ringdal on Letterboxd
Brit Marling's latest co-written vehicle is too one-sided to really hit home, even if it is close to preaching to the choir in my case. Giving corporate America a taste of their own medicine is probably a wet dream in many households all over the US. Even if it presents the activists as flawed it's lacking a cunterpoint. This could have been achieved if Marling's character had been fleshed out a bit as there are moments of promise. Hell, most characters would benefit from some beefing up.
The suspense doesn't suffer as a result, thankfully; it is a thrilling ride. That, and it has Patricia Clarkson.
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