The East (2013)
A fast paced thriller, The East stars indie-darling Brit Marling as a undercover agent for a independent spy agency, tasked to infiltrate a group of Eco-warriors known as The East. The group carries out a series of ‘jams’ (read attacks) against corrupt Non-government multi-nationals, and Sarah is sent in to bring them down.
It is refreshing to see a espionage or spy film that doesn’t follow the genre stereotypes. This is not a film about Queen and Country, or big explosions, car chases and actions. Instead of MI5 or the CIA we are dealing with an independent contractor, selling their espionage services to the highest bidders. Instead of Middle Eastern terrorists threatening the entire country, it deals with a group of eco-warriors with very personal missions. Instead of a seasoned agent, Sarah is on her first mission. The group’s mission is clearly defined and explained, it is clear that a lot of thought went into the planning and execution of The East, and it shows.
Despite the films deeply political message, it does not preach. The strong message the film carries, of the waste culture we all live in, and the manner in which NGOs see themselves as above the law, but never gets preachy, and keeps the political message running without losing the human touch.
Sarah’s journey throughout the film is intensely personal, there are few twists and turns in the story – it is all about her. The toll of her Stockholm syndrome is clearly visible, as she integrates with the group, and falls for the leader of the group, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) the more we can see the physical and mental cost and strain on her. As she takes an active role in the group, The East pushes home the philosophy of how far would you go for your beliefs, and it is rewarding seeing the Marling play Sarah’s struggle between her morals and believes, and her need to integrate in the group for her job.
Despite all this, The East is far from a perfect film. The idea of an eye-for-an-eye justice is only really debated in one scene, the ethics of killing for the groups message – even after they have already caused others serious injury. It is hard to judge the passage of time throughout The East, and whilst Sarah infiltrates the group and returns to the real world 3 times, it is hard to know how long a period of time she spends under cover each time – it is hinted it is for a long period of time, but there are no clear markers of this, and the film suffers for it.
That said, the film is redeemed by its closing moments, with a surprising reveal that I did not see coming, and ends on an ambiguous note, leaving the end open for interpretation. Sometimes leaving an open ended film does not work – but here it really does.
The East is a well acted fast paced espionage thriller, with a refreshing take on the genre, a good story, and a political message that isn’t jammed down the viewers throat. Despite some quibbles, it makes for a interesting and thought provoking film. 7/10