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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: The East

Grade: B
Verdict: The East is 70% familiar thriller-plot blended with 30% stylish indie movie. The film can be a little too preachy for its own good, pushing it from A into B territory, but still manages to create suspense and entertainment. 

I knew next-to-nothing about The East when I walked into the theater: I knew it was a political thriller, and I knew it was written by and starring Brit Marling, who also wrote indie hit Another Earth. These most basic puzzle pieces are still enough to give you a good idea of what's ahead. The East is a corporate espionage thriller that has indie sensibilities and styling, side-stepping many (but not all) Hollywood cliches you might expect from its theatrical siblings. 

There's the premise, to start. The East tackles the subject of left-wing, U.S.-based terrorist groups. Marling plays Sarah Moss, a former government spy who has recently transitioned to the private sector. At the beginning of the film, Moss is assigned to help a large corporation battle an eco-terrorist group known as "The East" by infiltrating the group from the inside. "The East" targets the high-ranking officers of major companies and enacts harmful, potentially life-threatening situations known as "jams" by forcing the corporate officers to use or experience toxic levels of the products they create. 

This movie's strongest virtue, by far, is pacing. Clocking in at roughly two hours, this movie is a breeze that moves briskly, never dragging or getting caught up in mundane details, which is an all-too-common flaw of political thrillers. The editing is tight, and the cinematography holds interesting shots without lingering too long, creating a sharp look that's easy on the eyes but doesn't get caught up in admiring itself.

Handling the topic of eco-terrorism is hard to do without being overtly dogmatic, though, and the film doesn't entirely escape the trap. The East does succeed at portraying a balanced portrait of both sides of the issue, which inherently means showing how wrong everyone involved is. The members of the East are given just enough depth and detail enough to avoid looking like a group of caricatures, however, while the heads of the corporations they attack aren't as fleshed out, and the occasional bit of remorse or regret they experience feels sudden and unearned. The movie may actually have been more successful if it instead stuck with one side or the other, as there isn't enough time to do both, and trying to make the corporate heads look both greedy and thoughtless (as The East sees them) AND relatable and regretful (as they see themselves) in a short amount of screen time isn't very effective. 

The women of this film shine overall. Marling brings just the right blend of softness with intelligence to be believable as a spy, and Ellen Paige plays a character far-removed from her typical quirky, apathetic young adult protype. As one of the leaders of the East, Paige is calculating and spiteful, yet she still manages to look vulnerable and uncomfortable in typical women's fashion, completely inhabiting the skin of a character who has shirked the ways of a traditional society. I was less impressed with Alexandar Skarsgard, who plays his usual tough-but-vulnerable self. 

Overall the movie is refreshing for all the little things that set it apart from your run-of-the-mill political thriller, while still providing the fun and excitement of the genre. The East is solid and moves quickly, but it's unlikely to end up on top 10 lists across the board this year. 

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