Things I associate with hippies: vegan diet (not really a ‘diet’ but that’s what they call it), excessively hairy, unwashed, peace, LSD, trees, poison, weed, love….wait wait wait…poison!? Really!? Well apparently yes, The East‘s brand of modern day hippies are pretty fond of a bit of murder by poison. These guys aren’t really into the old Woodstock 60’s stereotypes either to be fair, they’re more like a community of homeless terrorists. Fun times ahead, am I right?
Brit Marling (Sound Of My Voice, Another Earth, Arbitrage)
Alexander Skarsgaard (True Blood (TV), Melancholia, Disconnect)
Ellen Page (Juno, Inception, Beyond Two Souls (Video Game))
Directed by: Zal Batmanglij (Sound Of My Voice)
If you’ve been to the cinema in the last month or so you’ll probably have seen the awesome trailer for the film, you know, the one with the creepy video with Ellen Page narrating saying things like “Lie to us, we’ll lie to you. Spy on us, we’ll spy on you.” and the people wearing spooky masks with the eyes scratched out. I hope it done it’s job as well as I think it did, explaining the film without just giving you the major scenes of the film the way so many movies do these days.
Anyway The East is about an agent with a private security firm who leaves behind her boyfriend/husband Jason Ritter to go undercover within an eco-terrorist cell (or ‘god-damn hippies’ for any South Park fans out there) to expose and prosecute it’s members. Without giving any of the plot away, she winds up facing conflicts between her morals and her career and dishing out vigilante justice as party of the group. Predictable might be a strong word and sounds far too critical to use as a description for the plot. It’s a very good, deep, interesting story but I felt at times it thought of itself as being more mysterious and complex than it actually was (I counted one scene I was genuinely surprised by) and I imagine most people can guess where things are headed from the off. Again, that sounds much harsher than I mean it; although you know the destination, the journey there is tense, dramatic and pretty eventful.
Director Zal Batmanglij is reunited with serial collaborator Brit Marling to co-write the script, as they did previously with Sound Of My Voice. The film looks great overall, simple but very deep at the same time, although I do have an issue where the characters look a little too clean after the first quarter of the film to be taken seriously as squatters. He clearly knows how to get the best out of his stars too, which I’ll get to in a second. At around two hours, the story manages to get into a lot of detail with the major characters Benji (Skarsgaard), Jane/Sarah (Marling), Izzy (Page) and Doc (Toby Kebbell) who are superbly written and you get pretty attached, on the other hand I wouldn’t mind an extra half hour to go a bit deeper into Luca (Shiloh Fernandez)’s story after he starts out as a pretty major character, he drops off about halfway through and we barely hear from him again.
The cast list is full of awesome, but criminally underrated actors who all give a very strong performance. Brit Marling not only manages to keep you on side with a character who you know is working against the films heroes, but actually has you thinking of her as a hero herself, similar to Clare Danes’ character in TV series Homeland (surprisingly the two actresses are not related!). In addition to being one of the best looking guys on the planet, Alex Skarsgaard for once gets the chance to show that he’s more than just a pretty face. His portrayal of group leader Benji is balanced between leader of our group of heroes and terrorist hippie dude with a little sprinkle of cult leader for good measure. As good as his performance was, I’d like to have seen a little more of his dark side than we do, maybe a tablespoon of cultist charisma rather than a pinch. Ellen Page is as awesome as ever and the one you can really see as being an anarchist out of the bunch. She maybe doesn’t get as much time as Skarsgaard or Marling on screen but her presence is felt just as much when given the chance. However she is showing worrying signs of ‘Helena-Bonham-Carter-ism’ and getting dragged into roles where she is playing herself in a different outfit, hopefully we’ll see Miss Page step out of her comfort zone in the next year or two. The best performance for me though was from Toby Kebbell in the role of Doc. A smaller name compared to the stars (you might know him as Johnny Quid from RockNRolla) but he really secures your emotional attachment to the films characters and makes you think they are all actually in the game for the right reasons. I’m really split for my cameo watch in The East; I’ve decided to go for a joint award to Friday Night Lights’ ‘Voodoo’ Tatum, a.k.a Aldis Hodge and TV’s Jason Ritter (Parenthood alum, I just couldn’t leave him out).
Although it might not start any revolutions, The East is a really good underdog movie, definitely worth seeing, combining interesting plot with good characters and some solid acting and directing talent on show.
Disclaimer: Side effects may include increased hatred towards ‘the man’/’corporate fat cats’ and a desire to start an uprising of vigilante justice.
Stewart Scott – @TheStewDog