Review: The East (2013)

3 Sep


By Patricia Tobin

The East is an environmental espionage thriller that presents an intriguing and daringly innovative mystery. Co-writer/actress Brit Marling stars as an undercover spy, code-named “Sarah Moss”, who infiltrates The East, an eco-terrorist collective. Led by the charismatic, saint-like figure Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), The East leads a bohemian lifestyle, practicing freeganism and bizarre practices of cleaning each other. At the same time, the group ruthlessly plots against heartless corporations who poison rivers and profit from lethal drugs.


The East is perhaps not a typical thriller per se, but it does have an underlying tone of suspense throughout. The film effortlessly retains the audience’s attention, anticipating the collective’s next move. In addition, The East’s excellent pacing injects a certain infectious vigour that propels the story forward. On the other hand, the film gradually manoeuvres towards the drama terrain with glimpses of character backstories and an unnecessary romance. Predictably enough, Marling and Skarsgård exchange longing stares that quickly become tiresome.


The crisp colours that represent the cold, corporate climate and the warm undertones that belong to the hippie lifestyle of The East eventually become indistinguishable. Co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij deliberately interweaves sequences from the different societies with abrupt cuts, to form an unforgiving world filled with madness, vengeance and brutality. It is easy to see which side Batmanglij leans towards, but The East rejects any clear indication for a good-versus-evil dichotomy. Ultimately, the film favours the underdog, but it dares to show the startling consequences of bearing an anti-corporate message.


Marling portrays Moss as a clever and resourceful agent, but her reasons behind her actions are highly unclear. At one point, she half-jokingly asks her boyfriend, “Why do I have this job?”. Her motivations are never addressed again, but Marling’s likeability and sharp acting skills attempt to make up for this oversight. Similarly, Skarsgård’s trademark broodiness and moral ambiguity is oddly charming as well. The supporting cast is decent too ¡ª Ellen Page’s Izzie is a radical extremist who has daddy issues and Tony Kebbell’s Doc is the team medic who struggles with his own dark past.Lastly, Patricia Clarkson stars as Moss’s stern-faced boss; her icy tone and glacial demeanour certainly gives a lasting impression.


It is easy to dismiss The East for its cumbersome cliches, the romantic storyline is redundant and regrettably, there is a token black guy in the group. However, the film’s immensely gripping storyline is irrefutably engrossing. The East boldly presents strikingly modern ethical dilemmas, and its refreshing take on an often overlooked topic in Hollywood should definitely be rewarded.

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film at


6 Responses to “Review: The East (2013)”

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