The East -- An Inconsistent Eco-Thriller

                            “When it’s your fault, it shouldn’t be so easy to sleep at night. ... It shouldn’t be so easy to get away with murder. Poison us, we’ll poison you. Spy on us, we'll spy on you” Zal Batmanglij's "The East" (2013) starts with haunting narration and montage of shock, as radical environmentalists target CEOs of polluting corporations, exposing them to the very toxins their organization loose on humanity and nature. The film was co-written and acted by Brit Marling -- the 30 year old film-maker, who catapulted herself into indie spotlight with two complex dramas, "Sound of my Voice" (2011) and "Another Earth" (2011). Brit's first two movies had traces of sci-fi concepts. For "The East", she starts afresh with Zal, as the American nightmare portrayed here is not drawn from corporate media's headlines but from the blogs, thoughtful pranks and leaks.

                                Jane (Brit Marling) lives with her boyfriend, Tim (Jason Ritter). She seems to love him and care for him, but lies with a straight face, about her work. She is a former FBI agent and currently working as a corporate spy for the security firm, Hiller Brood. The mission of the firm is to defend its clients from vandalism, espionage and hacking that might affect profits or drive down stock prices. Jane's cool and manipulative boss, Sarah (Patricia Clarkson) gives out her new project -- the shadowy eco-terrorist group, 'The East', who we first meet dumping crude oil through the air-conditioning vents of a oil baron's mansion.

                               Jane changes her identity into Sarah and tells the boyfriend that she is going on a trip to Dubai. With a tattered jean and shirt, she joins the underclass people of vandals and dumpster divers. She soon infiltrates "The East's" headquarters, situated in dilapidated house deep in the woods. Izzy (Ellen Page), a fervent believer in the group's cause is suspicious of Sarah. During the first few days, Sarah comes to know about the radical group's cult-like aspects, which implies the necessity of blind devotion. Gradually, she also falls under the spell of informal leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) -- a sensitive and dangerous guy. 

                               The anarchists in the group have some special and personal reasons to pursue particular firms. The group's humanitarian guy, Doc (Toby Kendall), -- a former medical student -- Izzy and Benji are all motivated by grief and by the desire for revenge. They have considerable hacking skills and ruthless fervor to execute their assaults (called "jams") against corporate targets. Sarah/Jane stands dumbfounded amidst the group's activities and fights with her growing sympathy and increasing attraction to Benji. 

                                Story-wise, "The East" resembles popcorn flicks like "Point Break" and "Fast & Furious ", but this movie is more about the moral dilemma of Jane. That's where my problem towards this movie starts. The film starts with a well-construed political statement. When Marling comes into picture, what we expect is a cracking political-thriller. But, what we get is a good, and at times, a bland character study. There is forced romance angle between charming lead actors, and once we come to know about the anarchists back story, the film becomes too simple. The story of Rich, spoiled and guilty-conscious kids against filthy rich, old corporate just undermines the film’s topicality. The ending where Jane goes on a personal crusade makes us brim with cynicism.

                                Director Zal and Marling's script lacks logic in the second-half and so dashes faster to close the film before anyone realizes it. The script and direction deserves accolades for one reason, it asks questions: By poisoning pharmaceutical reps with their own medicine, do you think these vengeance-seekers are any way better than these impersonal, ruthless corporate giants? Sarah/Jane confronts wrong at both sides. In their own ways, both the radicals and corporate justify their actions, but the truth is -- people get maimed on both sides of this economic divide.  

                                   Brit Marling sustains our interest as Jane -- the figure of mystery. In real life, she has a bachelor's in economics, and was offered a job with Goldman Sachs. In 2009, She and her friend, Zal went on a trip and joined (and lived with) various anarchist groups. So, Brit's script and acting somehow resonates with her real life. Amidst the movie's inconsistencies, Marling's performance is compelling -- a righteous woman, caught in a wrong situation.She also inhabits a ambient vulnerability that extends from the screen into our universe. Skarsgard's Benji is well etched out -- a man who shies away from the true repercussions of his actions.

                                   "The East" asks tough questions, which are never destined to be answered. It is not a truly terrific movie but manages to pull you into the shadowy corporate world. 


The East -- IMDb

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