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The East - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published September 22nd 2013
Spy on us, we'll spy on you
Director: Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice)
Cast: Brit Marling, Patricia Clarkson, Emma Page, Alexander Skarsgard

The lines between good and evil are gratifyingly blurry in The East, a smart, political thriller about a newly recruited intelligence agent employed to infiltrate an eco-terrorist group. Problems arise though when she starts to question if she's fighting for the right side.

the east Brit Marling Alexander Skarsgard
Alexander Skarsgard and Brit Marling on opposite sides of a shaky fence

It's established early on that Sarah Moss is a complete gun, highly intelligent, methodical and super resourceful. It doesn't hurt that her boss, played by the always excellent Patricia Clarkson, sees something of her younger self in Sarah.

Sarah is sent undercover to trace the whereabouts and members of a high profile band of renegades called The East, whose m.o. is to expose malfeasance in corporations resulting in lethal environmental and health complications. This she is able to do quite efficiently, albeit at great risk to her own safety. Once she has ingratiated herself into the group however, she is confronted by personal moral dilemmas.

the east patricia clarkson
The always excellent Patricia Clarkson frocks up as the head of a private intelligence agency.

While the group itself has one goal in mind, to expose as publicly as possible the irresponsibility of large organisations to turn a profit with little regard to the public's well being, the methods and extremity of the punishment they mete out is rigorously debated between the members. At the same time, Sarah becomes disillusioned with the aims and objectives of the agency she's working for.

As if this conflict wasn't enough, Sarah also becomes seduced on another level with the leader of the East, Benji, played with glassy-eyed intensity by Alexander Skarsgard.

The stakes get higher, the suspense gets tighter and inevitably Sarah has to make difficult decisions which will clearly have long term repercussions.

the east Alexander Skarsgard
Alexander Skarsgard mists up those glassy eyes again.

Co-writer, co-producer and star, Brit Marling, has an austere iciness about her which is a perfect fit for the role, especially in the many scenes in which her character is forced to keep a cool facade or reason with the more emotive members of the terrorist group. Of those, Ellen Page registers the strongest, adding another fiercely intelligent and strong willed heroine to her impressive canon.

This is a thought-provoking and tersely entertaining thriller, well crafted and well worth seeking out.

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Why? A smart, well crafted thriller
Where: At selected cinemas
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