Sunday, 11 January 2015

Review - The East (2013 - Dir. Zal Batmanglij)

And so we get to the final of the FA Cup of Actors. Ellen Pages pits her wily scissor kick skills against the solidity of Émilie Dequenne's back four. Ellen Page kicks off with her effort - which I'd fancied watching for a while - The East.

Sarah (Brit Marling, who also co-wrote this along with starring in obscurendure favourite Another Earth) works for an elite intelligence firm looking after the interests of their big business clients. She is tasked with infiltrating a group of anarchists, The East, who have been naughtily upsetting these big business types, for example, pouring a load of oil into the house of the CEO of a company that has allowed a huge oil spillage in the ocean; an eye for an eye, no more, no less. As often happens in these situations, Sarah becomes attached to the group and everything gets a bit morally grey.

This for me was the greatest aspect of this film; I was constantly thinking about whether what The East were doing was justified or not. There is no doubt about the companies being entirely dodgy - as they generally are - but do they deserve some of the group's punishments? And just as Sarah becomes emotionally involved with the members, so does the viewer. It's all rather cleverly done. 

Initially I was thinking that both Brit Marling and Ellen Page had been miscast. I just couldn't see them being part of this group. As the plot develops it turns out that the members all came from middle class families, but they were sick of the  consumer crazy madness we now live in and the companies that drive it. They go dumpster diving to get their food, and they don't do too bad. I'm not convinced I could do it though. Added to this the characters in the group all have a grudge to bear against one of the corporations they are up against, so by the end the casting was spot on.

But given that this is Ellen Page's entry she isn't actually in it that much, and it isn't one of her better performances. If she goes on to win the competition, she has done so on the back of far greater performances than her own: Brit Marling's here and Cillian Murphy's in Peacock. Even so, the FA Cup has been about how wisely the actors choose their projects so it's maybe fair enough.

But Brit Marling owns this film. She goes from company drone to portraying a full on anarchist in a very convincing manner. She flits between the different states as she goes back to her real life. Through her acting it is easy to see her attachments growing to the group, but is she able to keep enough of a distance to continue doing her job professionally?

Easily the worst thing about The East is the most useless, tame version of spin the bottle I've ever seen. It's rubbish. There's plenty of hugging and a bit of lady kissing lady action. But the kinkiest it gets is when one character kisses a lady's belly button. Once. Big deal. 

The East gives the viewer plenty to think about after the film has finished, which is pleasant. (It makes you wonder whether the actors involved lead a less consumer driven lifestyle now.) But this film is more likely to change someone's viewpoint (as Fight Club changed mine) than Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy. It's the moral quandaries that raise this above the average and give it a healthy rating of...

If you like this you could also try:
Dawn of the Dead, Fight Club.

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