Movie Review: The East takes suspense films in a new direction

The East posterThe need to lay blame at the door of an identifiable enemy is only human, yet acting on that desire is fraught with moral complications belying any subjectively drawn line between good and evil.

Georgetown alum Zal Batmanglij’s (COL ’02) second film, The East, explores this blurry ethical territory through the lens of anti-corporatism as it attempts to weave together the plots of a thoughtful, quiet indie film and a tense spy thriller, and is for the most part successful. With fellow Hoya Brit Marling (COL ’05), who co-wrote and stars in the film, he tells the story of Sarah Moss, an FBI agent turned private intelligence operative, who infiltrates an eco-terrorist organization that calls itself The East in an attempt to protect her firm’s clients from the movement’s attacks.

Once she’s fully embedded in the cell and sees the fight from the perspective of its members, Moss begins to question her own allegiances and the mechanics of a world she previously took for granted. She also sees the members of The East in a new light, particularly, the group’s mysterious founder and leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgård from True Blood), with whom she begins an affair that ultimately leads to the demise of the comfortable relationship she had before she was assigned to The East.

Underneath the film’s activist exterior emanates a message about integrity and acting with the courage of your convictions no matter where they take you.  Crack the occasionally too-thin veneer of taking down cartoonishly evil CEOs and sticking it to The Man, you’ll find a character study of the almost absurdly self-assured.

The East gives the audience several different portraits of confident, driven people, and then begins to poke holes in them to see where they bleed and if they break.  Marling’s Sarah, and Skarsgård’s Benji, are joined by equally strong performances from Ellen Page and Toby Kebbell who create intricate and compelling characters whose own stories propel the plot forward and are almost more interesting than the espionage and intrigue provided by Marling and Skarsgård.

The score and the editing of the film give The East a more art-house feel than your ordinary action flick, and these two elements—the rich, thought-provoking narrative and edgier thriller streaks—vie for the audience’s attention. Batmanglij spends time developing characters in a way that seems out of place in a pure suspense film, dragging them and the viewers in and out of intense action. Although the score helps ease the transitions, the characters shift from one world to the other not altogether seamlessly. The film’s structure suffers because of these jarring sojourns into more cerebral, pensive subplots in an otherwise tense thriller.

Overall, these hiccups are forgiven because of the superb acting quality and an undeniably engaging story.  If it does nothing else to help the film, the jerky pacing certainly keeps the viewer guessing as to where the story is going next.  In a manner true to the educational mission at Georgetown, The East leaves the answers to the questions it poses about  contradictions in capitalist society ambiguous. Left to ponder the opposing sides of the ideological war at its core,  you cannot help but wonder exactly where the middle road is.

Image: IMDb

One Comment on “Movie Review: The East takes suspense films in a new direction

  1. Honestly, I am a conservative and I thought the movie to be very good. The socio-economic background of the activists does not make them “brats.” The point was, that they were seriously injured by the immoral, unethical, and (though un-enforced) illegal activities of their own parents, friends, and peers. That can be true no matter what background you come from. If a person is too bias or shallow, I would recommend watching the movie twice, simply to try and “get it.” Even though those activists had “issues” they aspired to a better “way” after seeing “what America has become” The movie had a bit of balance, fullness and completeness to it, even showing disagreements between activist members as “not becoming corrupt” by using “corrupt means.” Though, I found myself wondering if the activists suffered from the same problem in discernment and morality held by the protagonist in the movie 1984. That is how one tyrant simply replaces another. The only other thing that I found disappointing was the idea that the “news media” and “government regulators” would all of a sudden turn on the socialist government politician’s interests and state capitalist elite who own, control, and pay them them. As an example, do you think the media will ever tell the truth about what Obama has done in the middle-east, especially Libya in conjunction with Syria? If it hurts Obama’s Socialist direction, it does not get reported. Another example might be the time when the Xylene plant blew up in Pittsburgh. GE owned the major media stations there, an they hushed it up. However, you can not hide fighters coming into the ER for toxic exposure in huge numbers, and they talked about how GE did not have the chemical firefighting equipment on hand that they were supposed to have by law. Instead, equipment had to be lent from Allegheny National Airport. I have seen corruption even worse in my lifetime, though I will never be able to teach about it because people un-pc like me and without wealthy leftist connections do not get hired by educational institutions. So, how much money do you think Soros pumped into those phoney OWS protests simply to try and counter the gaggle – cluster of undefined Tea Party Protests? OWS died just like Leftist Talk Radio. Well, Radio Free Talk from New Hampshire being the exception. Maybe someone will come up with a movie that shows examples of the NSA and other XYZPDQ organs of the federal government work with state and locals to keep us under thumb. National ID cards, drones over head, pat downs, and no privacy are likely just the beginning. God help you if you oppose what anyone in any level government and big business wants. Here in Norfolk, they simply take your property and tell you to shut up, and that is the City Council working with ODU and a few very wealthy businesspeople. The point of the movie, “What goes around, comes around” or “You do it to yourselves.” I hope the young of the most corrupt people who are hurting others in America turn and right wrongs committed by their parents, but in this country placated by pop and corrupted by money and power, they are more likely to be like Oodae and Kusae. So, I am not holding my breath for the JL’s “Imagine.” Welcome to the Cleptocracy, may your movie make things better before your become a self centered self serving deluded movie star.

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