The East - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
ZAL Batmanglij’s The East is a thriller that provokes intelligent debate while thoroughly entertaining.
Inspired by the current state of the world, it’s basis in reality is much closer to the truth than you might think (often frighteningly so if you research some of what it raises afterwards). But it also grips and excites in the way that all good thrillers should despite an ending that some might perceive as naive.
Former FBI agent Sarah Moss (Brit Marling, who co-wrote the script) is now working for elite private intelligence firm Hiller Brood protecting the interests of it’s A-list clientele. When she is handpicked for a plum assignment by the company’s head honcho, Sharon (Patricia Clarkson), Sarah goes deep undercover to infiltrate The East, an elusive anarchist collective seeking revenge against major corporations guilty of covering up criminal activity.
But after living closely with their intensely committed members, she finds herself torn between her two worlds as she starts to connect with anarchist Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) and the rest of the collective, and awakens to the moral contradictions of her personal life.
One of the most fascinating things about Batmanglij’s film is its refusal to take sides, preferring instead to exist in the moral grey that exists on both sides. Hence, while the anarchists are undeniably asking the right questions, some of their actions beg the question of how far is too far in making a point?
Similarly, where are the regulations, or even the accountability, for the multi-global corporations being targeted, especially the pharmaceutical giants who take centre stage?
The East doesn’t pretend to know the answers and invites viewers themselves to fill in the blanks.
Yes, there are times when it conforms to genre norms (we know Moss will find her loyalties tested as well as finding possible romance) but even in doing so the film manages to pull a few smart moves out of the bag.
And while the conclusion might just be the film’s weakest element (aside from a middle section that threatens to drag), it’s interesting to hear different perspectives on it. Batmanglij himself describes it as chilling, especially in light of current events. Find out why
He also invests the majority of the film with a sustained air of tension and paranoia, recalling classic conspiracy and espionage thrillers such as All The President’s Men and Michael Clayton while maintaining an identity that is definitely its own.
He also draws great performances from his ensemble, most notably from Marling (building on the good work she did in Sound of Our Voice and Arbitrage) but also from Clarkson (snake-like as the corporate boss), Skarsgard (suitably enigmatic as Benji), Page and Toby Kebbell.
The East is therefore a first rate thriller – one that excites while it lasts while also, quite possibly, opening people’s eyes to some uncomfortable truths and provoking some interesting debates for some time afterwards. Expect it’s reputation to grow over time.
Running time: 116mins
Release date: June 28, 2013
- Read our review
- Zal Batmanglij interview (exclusive)
- The East Photo Gallery
- Watch the trailer