Go see ‘The East’ (2013) if you want, but leave twenty minutes early.

6 Jul

The East posterThe East is an example of a frustrating film. Why so? Well, the premise for one is interesting: a young but battle-worn female spy, Sarah Moss (Brit Marling), whose allegiance to the American flag has been plundered by the lure of private enterprise, must go undercover to investigate the mysterious anarcho-eco group who call themselves ‘The East’. Ah capitalism, you dependable seductress you.  ‘The East’ target massive multinationals responsible for subversive crimes against nature and humanity, such as energy and pharmaceutical companies,

Thus a character is introduced, is made conflicted, and, what’s more, is given genuine things to be conflicted about. The undoubtedly morally reprehensible acts of the corporations (polluting nature, poisoning water, indirectly killing children etc.) are contrasted with the ethically dubious methods the protesters use to get their message across, and as such Moss is pulled in two opposite directions. In doing so, The East forces us to reconsider our own position on such matters; while many would not dispute painting a CEO’s mansion with crude oil the same way he contaminated the ocean, how comfortable would you be knowing his life was at stake?

But before you could say “self-sufficient and sustainable anarchist hippie commune”, the movie flicks the autopilot switch and devolves from interesting character study to plodding action film. Instead of challenging the viewers with an ambiguous philosophical message and thus charging us with a certain amount of personal work, The East cops out in the most shamelessly blatant way possible. Rather than letting us make up our own minds on what is a fascinatingly complex issue, with the ending this film bellows “HERE IS THE ANSWER“.

This infuriatingly safe conclusion would be less of a catastrophe if the film hadn’t already gone into uncomfortable territory. The East frequents some rather dark and unexpected places, and as such could be described as a challenging film on many levels. One would assume, nay expect the movie to focus on and build the eventual direction Moss takes as a narrative totem from which the boiling tension of her loyalty spills over into either side, but it’s handled in such a pat, compromising way that instead of leaving audiences scratching their heads, they instead wipe their brows, relieved to be relieved of any expectations on their part.

The scenes involving the group are easily the best the movie has to offer.

The scenes involving the group are easily the best the movie has to offer.

Compounding this dramatic failure is the fact that the first two thirds of the movie are actually quite enjoyable, if themselves a little flawed. Brit Marling is a promising actress who plays a convincingly blank former FBI agent here, while Alexander Skarsgård steals the show as the charismatic and inherently sexual group/cult leader. However, as per usual Ellen Page did little other than annoy the hell out of me; speaking of ‘hell’, Moss is introduced early on as a Christian – she prays, listens to Christian radio, twirls rosary beads and so on. But the film sort of forgets about this, as it never impacts the story or influences her actions in any way.

This movie reminds me of 2012’s Flight in that it’s a interesting, well-written and  competently-acted film whose train is completely derailed by a devastatingly ‘safe’ third act. The East unfortunately strays from its promising path, and nullifies its audience’s minds with a Disney Channel ending.

Simon says: go anywhere else but East.

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