The East is an absolutely thrilling film from start to finish, and that’s saying something for such a blatantly political story. I’ll admit, I’m usually hesitant when it comes to movies focused on anarchist collectives. That focus has become completely overplayed in independent films with an array of stories that tread over the same ground in an effort to convey the filmmakers political message. That is absolutely not the case for Zal Batmanglij’s film. It’s a story housed as much below its surface as what is shown on the screen. It’s filled with torn characters who have so much depth that it’s almost hard to keep up. The story has layers upon layers, and that makes it an incredibly thrilling film.
When I say thrilling, I don’t mean thrilling in terms of edge-of-your seat action sequences, though those are definitely present, but rather the thrills come from how intense the film is from start to finish. It’s intensely emotional, intensely moving, but most of all, intensely entertaining.
The story follows Sarah (Brit Marling) a former FBI agent who is now working for a private investigation firm that protects corporate clients. She’s sent to infiltrate the East, an anarchist collective that has been committing acts of terrorism against those who they believe have failed to live up to the responsibility that comes with their corporate power. Once Sarah does become accepted by the East, she begins to see that their cause and their actions may not be all bad, despite some questionable methods.
There isn’t an actor in the cast that disappoints. Alexander Skarsgård is equally strong in the intimate woods scenes as he is when actually doing the infiltrating. He’s completely believable as the strong leader of such a group, and it’s really mesmerizing to watch the way he interacts with the other members of the cast. Ellen Page delivers yet another performance to remind us that she’s one of the most exciting actresses in Hollywood. The subtleties of her character are perfectly conveyed throughout.
But the real star of the film is Marling. Her performance is worthy of a best actress nomination. Let me repeat that: Brit Marling should get a Oscar nomination for best actress. She’s absolutely captivating every minute she’s on the screen. Her character’s growth is due in large part to the excellent story her and Batmanglij crafted, but the way her performance evolves along with the story is breathtaking. She delivers a truly artful performance, that should not be forgotten for a long, long time.
As powerful as the intense sequences in the film are, it’s the lulls at the hideout in the woods that really stick with you. The film is just as much about the relationships between the members of the collective as it is the work they do. The dynamics of the group are unique, and shown in extremely interesting ways, adding a further layers of depth to almost every character in The East.
The political messages of this film aren’t hidden. Batmanglij doesn’t try to convince his audience of his beliefs through the subtleties of the picture. No, he throws it in your face. But at the same time, he keeps a balance between fanaticism and passion. The way Sarah grows increasingly sympathetic to the group’s cause but is still appalled by their methods keeps the film from becoming overly forceful. There are conflicting views to contrast the usual single-minded doldrums of a politically charged film.
There are few espionage thrillers with the amount of substance that The East has, and the film greatly benefits from it thanks to sharp directing, a tight script, and an all-around intense story. The film will have you on the edge of your seat, and there really isn’t much more you can ask for from a thriller.
Tags: The East