When Sarah (Brit Marling) lands herself a job as an operative for an elite private intelligence firm, she goes undercover in a bid to reveal the identities of the environmental terrorist group who call themselves ‘The East’, following a string of covert attacks against major corporations, targeting those responsible for oil spills and pharmaceutical inconsistencies. However once she stumbles across the anarchist collective – led by the beguiling and crafty Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), she soon finds her loyalties are torn, as despite the increasing pressure placed upon by her boss (Patricia Clarkson), the close relationships formed within the group threaten to disrupt her entire mission.
What makes The East such a captivating watch is the ambiguity of Sarah’s mindset, as we witness a young woman battling against her own moral compass, with positive and negative repercussions on both sides. Some of the attacks perpetrated by The East, although destructive and harmful, are made for the right purposes, and as Sarah becomes aware of this fact, it become impossible to predict which way she is going to turn. You always feel one step behind our protagonist too, which is essential for a thriller of this kind. If you are able to second guess Sarah’s next move it’s only ever going to devalue the film and decrease the entertainment value, whereas she remains entirely unpredictable.
Marling, yet again, turns in an impressive performance, in another step in this immensely talented actress’s career. There are certainly a lack of strong female leads in Hollywood, but fortunately with Marling writing screenplays (in this case alongside director Batmanglij), she is able to create brilliant roles for herself, and it’s a breath of fresh air. Her emerging talent comes across in all areas too, as her intelligence and originality off camera filters in to her performances also.
On a more negative note, The East is guilty of touching upon various issues and yet failing to fully deal with them, leaving the audience with a few too many unanswered questions at the close of the film. For example, the supposedly serious relationship between Sarah and her boyfriend. They live together, and yet she gallivants around with these terrorists without a second thought, while he’s back at home quietly getting on with his life. We simply avoid any of the implications that Sarah’s romantic feelings towards Benji may be having on her relationship back at home.
The East is a conventional thriller, which although not particularly memorable, manages to hold down your attention throughout, telling a good story and blessed with a string of good performances. This may not be one you purchase on DVD, but it’s yet another promising foray into the fledging career of Brit Marling, and we certainly look forward to whichever project she tackles next.