Gemma Creagh takes another look at The East, directed by Zal Batmanglij and starring Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, and Ellen Page.
Atmospheric and unique, The East forsakes stock characters and car chases, and instead offers an unclichéed take on espionage within the world of eco-terrorism.
Sarah’s an ambitious, Christian, ex-FBI agent who is hired by a private intelligence firm to infiltrate the anarchist collective, ‘The East’. So after a krustifying makeover and somewhat alternative networking methods, she happens across one of their members. Following a kerfuffle with the law, Luca brings Sarah to recuperate in their remote hideout. There’s a fair amount of bonding before she is ingratiated into the eclectic group, but finally Sarah is invited to assist with one of their ‘Jams’.
As plans for corporate retribution escalate, Sarah finds herself drawn towards their enigmatic leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) – a man with a notable dislike for clothing. Growing ever more involved with The East’s members, Sarah begins to question her own loyalties towards her employers, Hiller Brood.
Although at times the plot veers towards the implausible,(‘Pffft. You mean you don’t eat dinner with a straight jacket?’); what makes The East distinctive is the tension’s slow build and the detailed dissection of relationships. There’s a righteousness emanating from the script that mainly manifests itself in Sarah (Brit Marling), Skarsgård and their frequent speeches – however it’s the young veteran, Ellen Page and her storyline that brings something much more ambiguous to the mix.
As the second feature from this skilled director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij, this film reveals a willingness to thoroughly explore a subject and experimentation with the storytelling. In fact Zal & his lead, Brit spent two months practicing ‘freeganism’ before writing the script. Now The East is not without its flaws but it’s good, gripping and definitely doesn’t fly South.