The East (R)

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Review byMatthew Turner27/06/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 115 mins

Entertaining, suspenseful thriller with an engaging script, strong characters, some intriguing ideas and a pair of terrific performances from Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgard.

What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Zal Batmanglij, The East stars Brit Marling (her second co-writer/star collaboration with Batmanglij after Sound of My Voice) as Sarah, a former FBI agent who lands a job with private intelligence agency Hiller/Brood and is tasked with infiltrating eco-terrorist group The East, who have been targeting corporations that damage the environment and pulling off eye-for-an-eye-style revenge attacks, such as flooding an oil CEO's house with crude oil.

After a couple of dead ends, Sarah successfully infiltrates the group and moves into their burned-out mansion headquarters the East House, living alongside fellow members Izzy (Ellen Page), Doc (Toby Kebbell) and charismatic leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard).

As Sarah is initiated into the group and begins joining in with their attacks (or ‘jams’), she finds herself questioning both her loyalties and her personal beliefs. At the same time, she begins to fall for Benji, despite having an oblivious boyfriend (Jason Ritter) back home who thinks she's on a business trip in Dubai.

The Good
Marling cleverly plays to her strengths as Sarah (as she did in Sound of My Voice), giving her an enigmatic blank-faced quality that means you're never entirely sure where her true motivations lie. Similarly, Skarsgard is effective as Benji, playing him with just a hint of steely menace behind his charming exterior; there's also strong support from Page and Kebbell (both of whom get great individual scenes), as well as a typically terrific turn from Patricia Clarkson as Sarah's ambitious boss at Hiller/Brood.

Batmanglij maintains an effectively suspenseful atmosphere throughout, generating tension both from Sarah's precarious position within the group (will she get found out, etc) and from how far she will be willing to go to maintain her cover (will she participate in the potentially fatal attacks or will she somehow attempt to sabotage them and so on). In addition, Batmanglij pulls off a number of effective set-pieces (such as a planned attack on a pharmaceutical company event or an impromptu surgery scene) and throws in some enjoyably off-the-wall sequences, such as a bizarre breakfast-eating test or a game of Spin The Bottle (eco-terrorists, it seems, like nothing more than snogging each other at random).

The Bad
That's not to say the film is entirely without flaws; for one thing, Marling's purposefully blank portrayal of Sarah means that the romance with Benji fails to convince. Similarly, the ending feels rushed and doesn't quite work and there are also a handful of irritatingly pointless details, such as why Sarah has to dye her hair (apart from to make her look like she usually looks, like when Jason Statham shaves his head in a movie).

Worth seeing?
The East is an enjoyable and frequently tense thriller with some engaging ideas, a strong script and superb performances from a talented cast. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 25/04/2019 10:51

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