The East

Directed By: Zal Batmanglij

Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Julia Ormond, Patricia Clarkson, and Jason Ritter

"We are the East.  We don’t care how rich you are.  We want all those who are guilty to experience the terror of their crime.  It’s easy when it’s not your life.  Easy when it’s not your home.  But when it’s your fault, it shouldn’t be so easy to sleep at night — especially when we know where you live.  Lie to us, we’ll lie to you.  Spy on us, we’ll spy on you.  Poison us, we’ll poison you."
-Izzy (Ellen Page)

That's some pretty heavy stuff Ellen Page is saying, and it makes me wonder whether we need a dose of eco-terrorism right now.  With all that's going on in the world this week, I'm not sure if this weekend is the appropriate time for an issue-driven film like The East.  Hearing about all sorts of corporate malfeasance that's destroying our lovely Earth is not what we need after a week of hearing about the government's irresponsible, unacceptable consumption and storage of our private data.  It's not what we need after a week filled with tornadoes, shootings, and falling cranes.  Movies often mirror life, but they're also supposed to be distractions that whisk us away from the troubles of life.  All of this is not to say that The East is a bad movie, but more so a movie with bad timing.

Former FBI agent Sarah Moss (Brit Marling) has just landed a job at the world's premier private intelligence company Hiller Brood.  Her boss Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) has tasked her with infiltrating a group of domestic terrorists known as the East who have been causing some trouble for her clients as of late.  After some time undercover living a freegan lifestyle and dining daily on food thrown away, Sarah meets a fellow freegan by the name of Luca (Shiloh Fernandez).  She discovers that Shiloh is a member of the East and quickly endears herself to him.  She purposefully injures herself and gets him to take her to the East's safe house.  There she's treated by a man by the name of Doc (Toby Kebbell).  Soon, Sarah begins infiltrating their organization and getting to know their leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård).  That's a dangerous job, especially with skeptic Izzy (Page) on Sarah's case.

The East is a predictable but respectable film.  We all know where it's headed from the start.  Hell, those of you who haven't seen the movie can probably take an educated guess as to where the movie goes based on the trailer alone.  Regardless, we've got to respect this film because it takes a stand on an issue.  It's about protecting mother Earth and holding those accountable who do otherwise.  It's about taking a stand for those who can no longer stand up to those corporations relentlessly and maliciously intent upon raking in the profits.  It's about embracing some hard truths.  While The East harkens back to an older era of moviemaking, I still don't think this is quite the right weekend for this issue-driven film.

Brit Marling is really starting to build a solid filmography.  With films like Sound of My Voice, Arbitrage, and The Company You Keep on her résumé, the writer-actor is blazing her own unique path in the film industry.  Both a talented actress and a writer, she gets to put both her gifts on display in The East.  Despite the fact that the movie is predictable, it's well-written.  It’s intriguing.  It's educational.  It's even perhaps motivational.  This all speaks to Marling's strong screenplay with director Zal Batmanglij.  From an acting perspective, the character of Sarah Moss offers her a tough role in which she really gets to show a different aspect of her acting ability.  All in all, her writing and acting in The East highlight how far she's come within the independent circuit and that the sky's the limit for her right now.

The East really deals with an amalgamation of many of the themes Marling has already tackled in other films — corporate malfeasance, domestic terrorism, and cults.  Each of her fellow supporting cast members gets to highlight these various themes in their performances.  As Sarah's boss Sharon, Patricia Clarkson gets to be the sharp end of the corporate sword and represents everything wrong with the reckless companies depicted in the film with her authoritative performance.  As Benji and Izzy respectively, Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page get to play some menacing, creepy terrorists that intend to show that two wrongs do make a right.  Finally, Shiloh Fernandez really accentuates the cult element in the film with his freegan vagabond Luca.  Getting all his meals from a dumpster is just the tip of the iceberg of his character's bizarre lifestyle with the other members of the East.

All in all, The East is a worthwhile film. It may be predictable and may have a few lulls, but it's a film that stands for something.  That's rare these days.  We don't get too many issue-driven films that aren't documentaries, even in independent circles.  I have to respect that.  The East gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon with this one.