|Sarah (Brit Marling)|
And that’s just the type of actress needed to serve as the ambiguous moral compass in the riveting new drama, The East. In a film that right from its start questions its own intent, Marling (who co-wrote the script with the film’s director, Zal Batmanglij, who also teamed with her for 2011’s Sound of My Voice) quietly yet fiercely redefines the political drama genre in which it exists. Marling plays Sarah, a smart, recent college grad who’s just landed a job at an elite private intelligence firm. Her first task? To infiltrate a dissident group of individuals, a freegan collective, whose sole mission it is to punish and take down various pharmaceutical companies that they feel have indirectly poisoned consumers with their products (in a sense, giving them a taste of their own medicine). The East refers to their latest, largest, target company in which they have a more personal interest.
Despite their cause and their ultimate actions, this cartel, so to speak, isn’t an aggressive batch. They live not too far away from the political heartland, Washington D.C., in a wall-less house torched several years ago by their leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgård in a solemn yet passionate role), who once lived there as a young boy. They munch on earthly cuisine mostly found on the ground or in dumpsters and avoid any processed or store-brought items to eat, wear, or consume in any way. Needless to say, they appear as vagrants, even though they consist of once-valued members of society who played their parts in the America machine. When one of them, Doc (Toby Kebbell), a physician, experiences first hand the effects of the industry’s conspiracy, he completely changes his life focus to join the cause. Each of the players, including Izzy (Ellen Page), who’s a little feisty firecracker, have had similar paths where the cause has affected them personally.
Thankfully, Batmanglij and Marling’s screenplay approaches the subject on a much broader level so that it never comes off as a public service announcement, despite the course of events. Sarah’s strength, even when she becomes submerged with the group, is so magnetic to watch. The film also does a good job of clenching the viewer with a heart-thumping score that increases the intensity and pace of the events. If you’re a fan of Tony or Ridley Scott’s work, you can see their influence there. They are just two of the producers of the film.
The beauty of The East is that it doesn’t take any side; it humanizes both sides and shows the weaknesses and strengths of both arguments. In that sense, it is an honest movie. It doesn’t tell you to think any one way or change your opinion on the pharmaceutical industry. Though the movie takes you inside the lives of those involved in the protest movement, and one pro-industry magnet who’s gone rogue, it doesn’t beat you over the head with either story. It’s the rather sensitive portrayals from each character that you will remember the most.