Film: The East
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Production: Scott Free
Screen Dates: Thu 20 June Cineworld 18:00, Sun 23 June Cineworld 13:15
The Edinburgh Film Festival is not kind on those in need of sleep and sunlight, thankfully The East is worth getting out of the bed for a 9AM showing.
Jane Owen, (Brit Marling) is hired by private security company to find, infiltrate and spy on the anti-corporate terrorist group, The East, who target CEO’s and exact revenge for their dubious practices. Weaving her way into group as an ex-office worker turned traveller called Sarah, she faces the challenge of gaining their trust, particularly with bitter hardened Izzy (Ellen Page). Their hippy cult like status tests the comforts of Jane’s clean middleclass foundations, exemplifying her inability to understand the ethics of sharing or recycling wasted food. A guarded unit, headed by the philosophical leader Benji, (Alexander Skarsgard), Jane is initially more exposed to the loving and sharing nature of the group, particularly touched by Doc (Toby Kebbell), who’s own personal story enforces the reality of being a victim to corporate malpractice. Soon she is enlisted into the group to take part in their terrorist attacks or ‘jams’ as they call them. From this point she begins to question the moral decision making of the group, but also her own organisation and boss Sharon, Patricia Clarkson, the woman Jane looks destined to become. Jane’s deeper involvement with the group sees her become closer to them and her loyalties become torn in the film’s final chapters.
As a “spy thriller” it lacks the pace or edge to hold an audience suspense ridden or have a standout moment to etch into the brains as being something memorable in the years to come. Nevertheless it’s a very well crafted drama with solid performances from all round and plenty of twists and turns to keep one stimulated. Marling as Jane/Sarah brings a sense of verisimilitude to the role as a spy that many of her peers would probably struggle to do and she manages to keep the audience on her side as someone torn between two opposing worlds whilst trying to be the one in control of her own moral compass. The film is also careful to not overly empathise with the terrorist group and deals with a heavy subject matter that arguably America fails to argue or be openly balanced with. There’s a great deal of independent spirit and direction from Batmanglij and character depth that makes The East a fresher take on the spy genre.