In Zal Batmanglij’s The East, former FBI agent and intelligence operative Sarah Moss, played by Brit Marling, is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known as The East in an effort to discover their next target. In this politically-charged thriller, we see Sarah’s loyalties and morals tested as she gets to know The East and what they stand for. As formidable as The East sound, they certainly give off a different air when we see them in person.
Although there are around 10 members of The East in total, the main four members are Izzy (Ellen Page), Doc (Toby Kebbell), Luca (Shiloh Fernandez) and the leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), who resembles Jesus in both status and appearance. As well as being anarchists, The East are devout environmentalists, and their attacks, or “jams”, are often reactions to environmental abuse.
Although I agree with these philosophies, The East tend to take it too far. With their dumpster diving, mutual body washing and dinners while wearing straitjackets, the group sometimes feel less like fierce anarchists and more like a bunch of university students that decided to become hippies. Of course people do make these drastic life changes in real life, but perhaps the film would have benefited from adding an older member to the group. The great thing about this film, however, is that no side is either definitively good or bad. If you don’t agree with The East’s pro-environment sentiments, then it’s perfectly fine to root for the corporations. Like Sarah Moss, we have this choice.
But the best part of The East has got to be the jams themselves. Scenes such as the corporate party in which The East attempt to dose a pharmaceutical company with their own faulty drug will have you on the edge of your seat and perhaps even questioning your own morals.
In summary, The East is a fairly entertaining eco-anarchist thriller that has some great suspenseful moments. Unfortunately the group themselves don’t live up to their reputations.
The East is a thought-provoking and politically-relevant thriller starring Brit Marling as Sarah Moss, an undercover agent who is assigned the job of locating and infiltrating a mysterious group of anarchic eco-warriors known only as The East, in order to obtain knowledge of their upcoming targets, as well as their true identities. However, Moss struggles with her own sense of morality when she eventually locates and joins the group, and finds herself sympathising with their cause.
Under the charismatic and caring leadership of Benji, played by Alexander Skarsgård, the group proceed to hatch some truly thrilling, eye-for-an-eye plans (referred to as ‘jams’) against several seedy corporations, with the aim of gaining revenge for the harmful injustices they have caused to the Western world. Their questionable methods and self-righteous attitude create an interesting dilemma for both Moss and the viewer, as it’s often difficult to fully determine which side to root for.
The great cast provide strong, believable performances as the cult-like East, who live in a secluded area of the woods and partake in some frankly bizarre rituals. However, the breakdown of Sarah’s relationship outside of her undercover work, and eventual romance with Benji, would have benefitted from further development.
Drawing inspiration from their own personal experiences with the ‘freeganism’ movement and their time spent as part of anarchist groups, director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer Marling make their eco-friendly message clear throughout. The film opens with upsetting shots of oil-drenched birds, which understandably provoke sadness and anger but, although the intentions are mostly good, the script is heavily polluted with an overbearing, anti-corporate message that does eventually become fairly tiresome.
by Tom Woodcock & Gary Woodcock