Director: Zal Batmanglij
Cast: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page
Running Time: 116 minutes
Release Date: June 28
Lazy nostalgia facsimiles notorious 1960s revolutionaries The Weathermen as The East concerns itself with a group carrying out a series of “jams” (presumably an abbreviation for culture jamming) against corporations that damage the environment, people, or both. Enter Sarah Moss (Marling), a semi-bland agent for the private intelligence contractor Hiller-Brood. Instructed by this shady, neo-con organisation, Moss leaves her cushy, painfully Christian life to live as a vagrant freegan; existing on trains and out of a backpack in order to infiltrate the domestic terrorist group known as The East.
Cleverly introduced with effective jump-cuts and mocked-up internet footage in the guise of a revolutionary podcast, The East gracefully navigates an exposition that illustrates a certain regard for the juxtaposition of character and bureaucratic banality. The certitude of sameness in pace and tone successfully create a framework for a rousing Political Thriller. Unfortunately, the introduction of the group itself lead to critical complexities that become hard to ignore.
Lead by Benji (Skarsgard), the group exists on the margins of the periphery, beyond the outlaws and outcasts. They reside in a squat that, when not plotting their next kidnapping or poisoning, acts as a space for them to play out their lost college years. While Izzy (the oft insufferable Page) performs the committed militant revolutionary, the rest of this ensemble more resemble a Mumford and Sons cover band lost in the woods. Indeed, this ‘dangerous’ group could make even the most hardened Marxist cringe. This painful sentiment dripped across The East unintentionally alienates the audience forcing them to look elsewhere for solutions that are never proffered. Hug circles and straitjacket feeding sessions mixed with gratuitously over simplified catchphrases of left wing tokens force the sincerity of this film’s political drive down the viewer’s throat.
Obviously a film of political persuasion, director Zal Batmanglij is critically commenting on key aspects of society’s moral fabric surrounding the actions of corporations: pharmaceutical companies with dangerous products, oil spills not cleaned up and neo-con spies covertly protecting the brands of said companies. Would a viewer be remiss for holding the film accountable to its ideological consistency? The problem herein is that while The East rage against the machine, they do so off an iPhone 5, streaming across YouTube on their Mac Book Pro. Obviously the ethical issues surrounding Foxconn’s suicide nets and union busting antics do not concern these moral warriors. Maybe that has something to do with Apple’s brand being subtly plastered all over the climactic scenes of the film?
Politics aside, this thriller falls short in the second and third act. East disassociates itself from the complexities of Michael Clayton, the terrifying ideological dissolution of Fair Game, or the furtive drive of All the President’s Men. Moreover, it neglects the thematic complexities that often make these films so worthwhile. Slick and paced, Batmanglij has a certitude of style that carries this simplified thriller off in the wake of the naive screenplay.