British Film Review: The East
Film Review By Paul Foreman
When an unknown creative team and an original screenplay, gets backed by veterans responsible for Promethius, Brokeback Mountain, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Black Swan. It raises an eyebrow. When it attracts acting powerhouses Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard. You know you are in for something truely special.
Well, The East is just that. One of most outstanding and original thrillers in the last twenty years. Packed with stunning reversals you'd expect from a creative team at the height of their powers, not ones just starting out. It holds a mirror to todays surveillance compliant world. With the gravity you find in the great seventies polemics such as The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor and French Connection. Yet the spine of this masterpiece is a stunningly, simple observation. In an age where government agencies can spy on us in unimaginable ways. The smart phone and twitter, hands its citizens, the ability to spy right back.
Elite private intelligence firm Hiller Brood, task 'Sarah' (Brit Marling) to infiltrate the elusive collective known as The East'. An off the grid anarchist group seeking revenge for corporate misdemeanours. As Sarah infiltrates the group she finds herself not only exposing their murderous ambitions, but also her own questionable morality that have led her to become a corporate spy.
It's no surprise that the genesis for 'The East' came from the summer creators Zal Batmanglij (Director/Writer) and Brit Marling (Actress/Writer) spent hopping trains and crashing in tent cities. Uncovering a growing subculture, seeking alternative direction in post-crash America. Because it's this attention to detail that makes The East as convincing as a Le Carre cold war thriller. Feeding oneself by dumpster diving. The perils of jumping trains hobo-style or the pedant hanging from a mirror that betrays your true loyalty. Even the spooks get the low tech treatment. It's white-trash in a trailer park that is Sarah's controller. She's not armed with a gun, just a couple of SIM cards.
Director Zal Batmanglij cleverly juxtaposes the corporate and anarchist worlds. An executive spy enters an airport lounge and exits a hobo. A freegan gets a makeover and walks unchallenged into a corporate party. When we finally reach ‘The East's’ secret lare, it gets a magical fairytale quality. When Sarah is challenged by the group, she has to dine wearing a straitjacket. A simple test that reveals far more than she bargained for and is a stunning metaphor for her own moral dilemna. That scene is so spectacular in fact, it haunts you long after you've left the cinema.
Finally there's the outstanding cast. Brit Marling is an ice cold beauty to Benji's (Alexander Skarsgard) rugged Nordic beast. Spiteful Izzy (Ellen Page) spurs the group's ambition to even greater 'jams'. Doc (Toby Kebbell) trembles his way through stomach-churning freegan surgery. Whilst ever suspicous Shiloh Fernandez shimmer behind Sarah, like Banquo's ghost. That's before we get to Hollywood warhorses Julia Ormond and Patricia Clarkson.
‘The East’, follows on from Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling's first collaboration, The Sound of My Voice. My hunch is this film will prove another stepping stone for one of independent cinema's great creative teams. There are few films you leave feeling you've just seen a call to action. So do not go west, this summer. Go East. Go now. And tweet you're friends.