Movie review – The East: Outside the corporate matrix

2013-08-18 14:00

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Film: The East (Nu Metro)

Director: Zal Batmanglij

Featuring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Patricia Clarkson and Julia Ormond

The reason The East is so real is that it is. It was written in the right period.

The East is a sexy little film – and after seeing it, I forgive director Zal Batmanglij and actress Brit Marling, who co-wrote it, for their last effort, Another Earth.

The duo’s previous effort erred on the side of navel-gazing waffling. This one gets on with the action and is a cleverly plotted piece of anarchist praise cinema.

The reason this film is so real is that it is. The co-writers, who are also university friends, spent the summer of 2009 living off the grid.

Says Marling: “We discovered anarchist and freegan collectives all over the country (the US) and lived with some of them for a while.

“We got to know people who had interesting ideas about how you might live your life – learn to grow your own food, to fix your own car, to defend yourself, to live in small communities, share things with each other, teach each other how to become radically autonomous beings again. We weren’t thinking at the time that a movie would come out of the experience. We were just living our lives and the story gradually began to take shape.”

In The East, Marling is Sarah, an ambitious, highly effective agent with a top-end private investigation firm – kind of like the FBI if it were privatised – with A-list corporate clients.

Sarah is given her first assignment – via her tough corporate shark boss Sharon (played by Patricia Clarkson) – and it is high profile and dangerous.

She’s to work to infiltrate an ecoterrorist organisation called The East, which targets corporations that have damaged the environment.

The opening sequence is a guerrilla attack on the head honcho of an oil company that has damaged the environment – an unsubtle dig at BP and its chief executive at the time, Tony Hayward.

It’s really hard from here on out to find much sympathy for the corporate victims of The East’s crimes – which is exactly what the film makers want.

They want the audience to travel down the rabbit hole with Sarah and to take her journey to enlightenment with her.

Sarah has to wrestle with the disconnect between her real life and her fake identity, much like anyone who works undercover.

The trouble is that soon the real becomes fake and throws her sense of the world into disarray.

The East was five years in the writing, but while the pair were working on it, the world was changing too and Batmanglij says: “When we finished the first draft, a lot of things were happening in the country.

When the Gulf oil spill happened, we had already incorporated an oil spill into our story.

Then the economy tanked and the country went into a recession.

“The ill will towards corporations and the financial industry was growing. The Arab Spring phenomenon began. People started to say the script was so timely. Then, as we started preproduction, the Occupy movement erupted.”

What makes it so compelling is that it tells a story from the point of view of the outsiders.

It is those living outside “the matrix” who can see it for what it is.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable film with a fine young cast, well-plotted sequences, a dollop of righteous indignation, a little romance and a lot to think about from two exciting filmmakers.

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