The East* Review

Film Still
  • The East film still


Brit Marling excels as a undercover spy sent in to take down a gang of trust fund lefties.

Zal Batmanglij’s The East is a zeitgeist-grabbing indie spy thriller exploring the rise of techno-savvy anti-authoritarian movements lurking in the darkest recesses of the internet. Brit Marling’s duplicitous private security agent is a world away from the sexist antics of 007, the dog-tired traipsing of George Smiley or that whirlwind killing machine, Jason Bourne. She’s more in the vein of undercover coppers like Donnie Brasco and Serpico.

The Net is no longer just a handy portal to access porno or the preserve of inquisitive nerds wanting to find out about aliens at Area 51. The world-wide-web has become increasingly politicised and weaponised. In the age of Occupy, hacktivism, WikiLeaks and media-powered outrage at tax dodging businesses and corporations destroying natural resources for maximum profit, outsiders with a grudge are finding increasingly sophisticated means of expression. But what turns bourgeois brats against their parents and a system that secures them a gilded future? The East explores both issues all within the guise of a good, old-fashioned genre movie.

As with last year’s Sound Of My Voice, also co-written by and starring Marling, this is another look at deeply manipulative individuals, blind belief and conflicted emotions. There’s something very clever at work in that The East could be the springboard for a whole new espionage series – this entry being an origin story of how master criminal and dogged pursuer began an endless game of cat-and-mouse.

Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page star as alternative-living posh kids running a protest collective. Their missions, or 'jams', as the group dubs them, grow increasingly murderous. Enter Sarah (Marling), sent to infiltrate the gang at the behest of a private intelligence agency, Hiller Brood.

The East isn’t a Baader-Meinhof style affair that details the appeal in attacking consumerist society by any means necessary. The actions of The East are as morally repugnant as the corporations screwing up the planet with nihilistic abandon. Batmanglij’s movie is a level-headed, pragmatic work wary of ranting dogma from both sides. There’s something positively centrist or Third Way about it. Capitalism works as long as it can be held accountable.

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