At the start of the year I had not heard of this film, had no idea what it was about and had no intention of seeing it. A few weeks ago though, when I went to see The Iceman, there was a trailer for The East before the film and I was amazed that I hadn’t heard about this film earlier. I mean it’s a thriller about a group of terrorists punishing companies for their crimes against the environment, it is my ideal film and the film itself really impressed me with just how smart it was, making me feel stupid for having not heard about it earlier.
The main plot of the film concerns the actions of an eco-terrorist group called The East and the attempts made by a private investigative firm to find them, sending in an agent to infiltrate the group who slowly begins to be drawn to their ideals. A brilliant thing about the film is that, while you support the motives of The East, you would not want to do what they do. You always know that what the group is doing is incredibly dangerous, can kill dozens of people and may not be as beneficial in the long run. This whole point about the extent to which people go to make information available has become even more relevant now with all the stuff about Edward Snowden and the extremes to which the group go to to both avoid detection and to make sure that their information gets released is all very much relevant.
The great thing the film does though is make it so the audience grows to understand why the group do what they do gradually over the course of the film. At the start, you think that the methods of the group are way too extreme but when you understand the personal stakes for the people in the group, in particular Doc and Izzy, you understand why they go to these lengths. It also helps that what the companies being targeted are doing is incredibly wrong, things like polluting the water in claiming an energy source (a plot point in the film which was begging for Mark Ruffalo to be involved in the film) and selling medication that can cause serious brain damage are disgusting for companies to do (and companies are doing this in real life) and, as someone who is very against policies like fracking and medical exploitation, I can understand why the group uses extreme methods. There is also a very great point about food waste which, in the age of pointless sell-by dates and more expensive food, is an element of the film that some people will probably adapt and (as seen through experience) some people already do this.
On a film-making level, The East is also very impressive. It makes great use of the scenery to provide a great contrast between the more basic lives of members of The East and the highly glamourous lifestyles of the people they target. Another thing is the way in which little background details become relevant later on, for example, you briefly see random security checks when entering and exiting a building so you know that a certain point is not brought in from nowhere. There is also the way in which scenes are filmed and written so that the audience can guess what will happen and makes the audience think about what they would do in the situation. a good example of this being a dinner scene when you first meet The East. The ending though can feel a bit anti-climactic to some but also really fits with the tone and character development throughout the film, feeling like the best way that the film could end.
Finally there is the acting. Brit Marling is brilliant in the lead role as Jane/Sarah in that we know how smart she is and how well she can fit in. but we also know just how out-of-depth the character is and the pain and horror she experiences when she joins The East. Alexander Skarsgard is pretty good as Benji, he really sells being the leader of a group like The East but there is something about how the character is written that makes him come across a bit cliche towards the end of the film. This same problem also applies to Patricia Clarkson in that she delivers a brilliant performance as the head of the investigative firm but the way the character is written comes across as a bit one-note. The standouts though are Toby Kebbel as Doc and Ellen Page as Izzy. Kebbel (who is completely unrecognizable to someone who was introduced to him in Black Mirror) really sells the powerful, emotional aspect of the character, his brilliant skill and brilliantly acts the shaking spells and seizures that have affected him as a result of medical poisoning. Page fares even better in that she really sells just how devoted into The East she is, the past of her character in relation to one of the companies targeted and both the joy and pain of what she does and how much she was affected on a personal level by what one company did and all of this really plays to Page’s strengths as an actress.
Overall, The East is an excellent thriller. It is really smart, knows its subject matter perfectly, is brilliantly acted and appeals to the environmentalist inside me. This film really understands the reasons why people would go towards groups like The East and also the ways in which the public at large do not agree with the methods of these groups and, in the current political climate, is an incredibly timely film.
My Rating: 5/5