Calling The East a hipster thriller would be reductive but not entirely inaccurate. What it is though, is a really well made movie. The trailers give the impression that this could be one of those Enemy Of The State type movies and the fact that the Scott brothers (Ridley and Tony) are credited as producers would serve to aid that assumption. But this is a more measured thriller than the type of movie both the Scotts have made.
The East is a revolutionary collective that lives off the grid, and conceptualizes and executes ‘jams’ against major corporations that have been responsible for atrocities like oil spills, water table contaminations and the sale of questionable medications to the unsuspecting masses. Led by the enigmatic Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) and the very tightly wound Izzy (Ellen Page) this group has already executed one successful jam when they become of interest to Sarah (Brit Marling, who is also a co-writer of this film) a covert operative for a private company that protects the interests of big corporations.
Once she goes undercover with the group that the mainstream media has branded ‘eco-terrorists’ she becomes familiar with the group’s inner workings, and even forms bonds within the collective. And then everything goes to hell, in a manner of speaking.
An open mind is very essential while going into a movie like The East. This is not easy-breezy entertainment and before the action kicks in there are enough moments when a viewer could check out. Also, when I say ‘the action kicks in’, this is not the type of stuff that plays in the average multiplex all year round. There are intense moments in this movie and I found myself leaning forward several times, waiting and watching for what would happen next. There are definitely a couple of plot twists I didn’t see coming. And they weren’t twists for twists sake either.
Ms. Marling is in almost every frame and her aloof, slightly unknowable, Sarah is tough to get on board with in the early parts of the movie. As the film progresses that aloofness is blunted by the weird practices and rituals of The East that she is invited to participate in. British actor Toby Kebbel (RocknRolla) has a small part in the group—and the movie—yet he manages to stand out.
Final Analysis: It is clear that Ms. Marling and the director (and co-writer) Zal Batmanglij have given this material some serious thought. Sure it turns out that the principals in The East are privileged white folk unable to deal with the guilt of what their lives could become but the narrative develops with a level of believability that suggests that the writers might have actually spent some time in a similar world. The East is quite an achievement as far as filmmaking, storytelling, and delivering a message goes.
My Advice: Seek this one out. It is proof that people are making interesting cinema even when they are backed by mainstream producers.