Written by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, and directed by the latter, the two spent some time investigating and experiencing the ideals of freeganism – whereby one only eats food which has been discarded, usually by restaurants and supermarkets who are required to do so by law, but which is essentially perfectly edible. Using their hands on research for how their characters might live day to day, they created the story of a group of anarchists calling themselves ‘The East’, who have taken it upon themselves to teach large, corrupt corporations a lesson, and give them a taste of their own medicine, quite literally in the case of one pharmaceutical company. We perceive events through the eyes of Sarah (Brit Marling), a former FBI agent attempting to infiltrate the cell and alert the authorities about their forthcoming attacks, as per her current employment with a private intelligence firm.
The film is a sort of conjoined twin – a spy thriller spliced with sociopolitical polemic, with each element good, but not strong enough in its own right to bear witness to the best fruits of their genre. Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, and Alexander Skarsgard (son of Stellan Skarsgard, here initially looking very much like Viggo Mortensen in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’), play the most recognisable members of ‘The East’, and most of the screen time focuses on the group, and Sarah’s interaction with them. It is at pains to show they aren’t just a bunch of hippies, none of them take any drugs for example, and it is shot in an authentic location – the house they all live in is used in real life by a band of people attempting to live outwith society’s norms. However, focusing so much on a group with an alternative lifestyle that for many will have negative shades of cultism, or the stereotype of Eco-terrorists, but who are active against issues that the vast majority of the populace in today’s world share a common sense of inept outrage about, kind of feels like a betrayal against the film’s primary hook.
The tactics used by the organisation are grounded in their own moral code, but one that is balanced enough to bring the audience into the debate. It is essentially a well put together film, but we see exactly what we expect to, and the climax manages to be both a little messy, and a little obvious. Indeed, bar an appearance in ‘Arbitrage‘, Marling is most well known for staring in, along with co-writing, 2011’s ‘Another Earth’ and although her character there is markedly different from Sarah, they walk similar paths in terms of the narrative and their function toward concluding the story. With a little more incendiary risk, and a little more tightness to the writing it could have been both more thought provoking, and more gripping.
With regards to the pharmaceutical company targeted by The East, scroll down to the end of the review of ‘Side Effects‘, and have a listen to an important, eye opening TED talk delivering a real world insight into the industry.