Film review: The East (15)

4.00

A high time with the eco-terrorists

The director Zal Batmanglij and his co-writing partner Brit Marling made a fine debut last year with Sound of My Voice, a suspense drama about undercover journalists infiltrating a cult.

It seems they haven't finished with the idea, because The East, their follow-up, is about an outsider infiltrating another closed group, this time an eco-terrorist collective. There is a standard progression in this kind of drama – the undercover operative feels attracted towards the enemy, and loyalties become tangled – but this film doesn't always go the obvious route; it has knots and kinks in it.

Marling stars as Sarah, an ambitious agent in the employ of a private intelligence firm. She's been tasked by her boss (Patricia Clarkson, chilling) to get inside an off-the-grid outfit called The East, which targets corporate evil-doers and exacts personal revenge on their CEOs. They poison innocent people? We'll poison them back.

With unlikely swiftness – via riding freight trains and eating out of dumpsters – Sarah is picked up by an East member and spirited off to a derelict house in the woods where the group hides out. They prove an interesting bunch, from their quietly spoken, charismatic leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) to his spitfire lieutenant Izzy (Ellen Page) to their doctor (Toby Kebbell), whose experience of an anti-malaria drug in Africa has given him seizures.

The big pharma company responsible for that drug is the object of The East's next "jam" – their word for an offensive. They will spike the champagne flutes at a company get-together and see how they like their own medicine. Sarah is horrified at this eye-for-an-eye strategy, and yet she discerns a core of justice in it. The script keeps a largely evenhanded line in addressing the issue.

Later, the group kidnaps a CEO whose company has been tipping carcinogenic waste into a local water supply: children have died because of it. Sarah pleads with them not to throw the cowering chief into the same toxic swirl: "Hurting people isn't going to bring anyone's child back," she says. But that won't cut it with these true believers, bent on a public show of retribution. As Izzy, the most fanatical of the group, remarks, "They say two wrongs don't make a right. That makes me think whoever said it has never been wronged before."

So perhaps The East isn't entirely unbiased in taking sides. Marling and Batmanglij have talked about how they spent a summer living off the grid. Their experiences formed the basis of Sarah's journey into this alternative world. At points in the story The East collective are styled "anarchist", but is that the word for people who argue against wasting food and polluting lakes? It's a mark of the script's intellectual confidence that it sees the counter-argument, and voices it. Thus Sarah, on first encountering the group: "Why is it that self-righteousness always goes hand-in-hand with resistance movements?"

Which side of the line she finds herself on forms the slightly improbable denouement. The film could have benefited from a good twist, instead of settling on a halfway-house position that may not convince either way. That said, it's refreshing to see a movie that doesn't flinch from debating with itself, or from dramatising issues that appear intractable. The film-makers may overstate the argument at times, but at least they believe it's an argument worth having.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
News
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
News
Brooke Magnanti believes her reputation has been damaged by the claim
books
Arts and Entertainment
A large fire has broken out in London's historic Battersea Arts Centre
art
Arts and Entertainment
Orla Brady as Anne Meredith, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Joanna Vanderham as Katherine McVitie in Banished
tvReview: Despite the gritty setting, this drama is as fluffy and soppy as a soap opera
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and co-director Richard Glatzer, standing, on the set during the filming of ‘Still Alice’ in New York
film
Arts and Entertainment
Great British Sewing Bee finalist Matt Chapple
tvReview: He wowed the judges with an avant garde dress
Arts and Entertainment
Driven to the edge: 'Top Gear' producer Oisin Tymon is said to have had a row with Clarkson
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nazi officer Matthias Schoenaerts embarks on an affair with married French woman Michelle Williams in 'Suite Francaise'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Prime movers: Caitriona Balfe (centre) and the cast of Outlander
TV
News
Feasting with panthers: Keynes
books
Arts and Entertainment
Strung out: Mumford & Sons
music
Arts and Entertainment
Avant-garde: Bjork
music
Arts and Entertainment
Despite a decade of reform, prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low
arts + entsAcademic and author Joanna Bourke in warning to arts world
Arts and Entertainment
Electro Velvet, made up of Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss