The East – Film Review – 2013 – Film Dispenser

Film July 5, 2013 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

How far would you go to further a political or social agenda? Is violence ever justifiable as an instrument of change? How can you tell the difference between terrorists wreaking destruction on their enemies and patriots who are lashing out at powerful forces of oppression? These are the questions raised by The East, a politically-charged thriller set in the world of eco-terrorism. Ultimately the film fails to provide answers that are truly worthy of these questions, but it still makes for a thought-provoking trip to the theater.

In the opening moments of The East, a group of hooded figures climbs the walls of a mansion in a gated community. The residence belongs to the CEO of an oil company that was responsible for a massive spill off the coast of the United States that killed wildlife and poisoned the environment. The intruders bring buckets of oil and pour them throughout the CEO’s home in an attempt to show that simply paying for an environmental clean-up and taking a hit on the stock exchange is not sufficient punishment for the damage that was done.

The group calls itself The East, and it is led by Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) and Izzy (Ellen Page). Both of them have unexpected ties to the world of corporate America that I will not reveal here. With each successful mission, the group begins to think of bigger ways to strike at the hearts of the pharmaceutical, chemical and oil companies that often make their profits by stepping on the disenfranchised “little guy” who has no voice in our system of government.

Enter Sarah (Brit Marling), an undercover investigator for an elite private intelligence firm who is masquerading as a freelance eco-warrior. Sarah gradually infiltrates The East in an effort to learn which corporations are on the group’s list of future targets. As she assimilates into the group, she begins to question the motives of her employer as much as she distrusts the methods being employed by her targets. Is she opposed to what The East is doing? Or does she simply object to the way they are accomplishing their goals?

Brit Marling co-wrote The East, and her stand-out performance anchors the film. It is worth the price of admission to see her portray an undercover operative who begins to identify with her targets and question her own purpose. She is not a member of law enforcement and beholden to a greater good. She is gathering intelligence to be sold by her superiors to their current and prospective clients. (Keep an eye out for a chilling moment when Sarah makes a clandestine call to her superior to report a serious crime in progress and receives a surprising response.) Marling captures the conflict, confusion and guilt of someone who doesn’t know what or whom she believes in anymore.

The film is not without its flaws. The bonding moments between the members of The East seem disconnected from the professed purpose of the group. One minute they’re interacting like the hippie love cult in Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, and the next minute they’re debating how much lethal force they’re willing to use on their future missions. Are they flower children living in peace and harmony on a commune, or are they a dangerous eco-terrorist group that needs to be infiltrated by an elite investigation firm? It’s hard to sell an audience on the idea that they are both, and those portions of the film fall flat.

In the end, The East takes on a heavy subject and staggers under the weight of it. But, give them serious points for trying. It’s exciting to see a thriller that aspires to doing more than just keeping an audience in suspense. The East is unlike any other film in theaters this summer, and that’s a good thing. Brit Marling’s performance is a solid 9. The film as a whole gets a …..

7.5 out of 10

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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