The East

The East

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Brit Marling became the darling of Sundance in 2011, when she wrote and starred in Another Earth and Sound Of My Voice. Two years down the line, she and Voice co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij brought their their follow-up to the festival. The pair return to the notion of cults but their film also draws on the current hot-button issues raised by the Occupy Movement and those like it and computer 'hacktivist' groups such as Annonymous. The setting may be current and sound edgy on paper but beneath the zeitgeist veneer, the mainstream thriller formula they employ is as familiar as your slippers.

Marling plays Sarah, a former FBI agent (they must be recruiting them incredibly young these days). She is now working undercover for a private intelligence firm (Patricia Clarkson proves memorably spiky as her handler), aiming to infiltrate would-be terrorist cells and dismantle them from within. The initial trick is to even find the group you wish to infiltrate and early scenes see Sarah attempt to attract the attentions of a shadowy eco-terrorist cell known only as The East.

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Once accepted into their organisation, she finds herself unsettled by their unnerving bonding mechanisms, designed to both test the loyalty of and strip back members' sense of self in favour of the collective. She becomes involved in their retributive action - referred to as 'jams' - which take a strict eye for an eye approach to corporate misdeeds, from unethical big pharmaceuticals to freely polluting petrochemical firms. In the tradition of many spy movies before her, however, she also discovers that she is increasingly attracted to The East's charismatic leader Benji (Alexander SkarsgÄrd) and his cause.

The East bustles with ideas - and cast members - to such an extent that tension is initially squandered in favour of just keeping up with what is happening. The East collective is fairly hefty ensemble, featuring firebrand Izzy (Ellen Page) and the damaged Doc (Toby Kebbell), for whom retribution has a personal note, but there are several other characters who feel more like check-box revolutionary types than sentient beings. A subplot with the ever-watchable Jason Ritter as Sarah's long-suffering but loving boyfriend, who knows nothing of her line of work, also feels like an underwritten distraction from the narrative.

Most problematic of all, is the way the screenplay falls back on ever-less-credible coincidences to keep the action moving. If you're prepared to go along for the ride, The East is entertaining and solidily gripping in its midsection, but there's a nagging suspicion that Marling and Batmanglij feel very pleased with themselves despite the story being neither as profound nor unpredictable as they think.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2013
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A spy who has infiltrated an eco-terrorist group, finds her loyalties tested.
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Director: Zal Batmanglij

Writer: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling

Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson

Year: 2013

Runtime: 116 minutes

Country: US


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