Friday, March 29, 2013

Movie Review: The East

It's been almost 2 weeks since I went to go see the movie The East at SXSW, and since then I've been struggling with what I wanted to say in this post. Each time I wrote a draft it never felt quite right, so I will say my thoughts as plainly as I can, and hope it feels cohesive. Forgive me if my thoughts wander a little, it's just how my brain works. 
Alexander Skarsgard at SXSW. Copyright Katerina Bent, all rights reserved

I really enjoyed The East, which is about an eco-terrorist group that exacts revenge on several large companies for their harmful practices. The main character, Sarah (played by co-writer Brit Marling) is sent out by a private security firm to infiltrate and assess the threat of the terrorist group known as The East. However, Sarah finds herself sympathizing with their movement as the story goes on. (I would caution those who've read reviews that say Sarah's change of heart is due to her falling for The East's enigmatic leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). There is a very very small romance in this story, but it's not the main story). I found The East to be a well balanced movie in the sense that there's a lot of focus on the characters, and the writers still manage to tell a compelling story. The East has a freshness about it that Hollywood movies often lack. The actors don't lean on overused archetypes in their performances, and the writers don't give any easy answers. I couldn't guess what was going to happen, and when I tried, I was proven wrong. I think one of the things that contributes strongly to its feeling of authenticity is its moral ambiguity. As Alexander Skarsgard said in the Q&A, “I've watched this movie twice, and I still don't know who the villain is.”
I think The East is really well done, and I'm someone who regularly finds myself trapped between two worlds when it comes to finding movies I like. I don't like Hollywood blockbusters because they often focus on special effects, and forget the story. I don't love a lot of independent films because they often feel obscure and strange. I think The East hits a good medium. I found it relatable as a reflection of what people are feeling at this point in history.
There was a anecdote told at the Q&A that I wanted to share. While making the movie the director, Zal Batmanglij, and the costume department were having trouble designing clothes that seemed right for the counter culture terrorist group. Batmanglij had the costume department go out and “rent” clothes from those in the counter culture. As the actors were digging through trash bags full of clothes, one of the costume designers said, “oh, we'll have to wash all of these.” To which Batmanglij replied, “you will not touch these clothes!” Apparently Batmanglij felt that the smell and stains contributed to the authenticity of the costume. Ellen Page (who plays Izzy) commented that the black hoodie that she wore often in the film had a very distinct smell along with a bag of stale pretzels in the pocket, so she “had a good snack for between takes.”
Alexander Skarsgard at SXSW. Copyright Katerina Bent, all rights reserved

There was one part of the movie where I asked myself, “Does Alexander Skarsgard need to be naked here?” And then my resounding answer was, “Do I really mind?” No. No I didn't. By the way, I found myself slightly distracted during the movie because Alexander Skarsgard was in the theater, and I kept sneaking peeks at him, one row up, and halfway across the room.
My recommendation is to go see The East. It's an interesting and thought-provoking film. Hopefully you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Please let me know your thoughts on the film if you've seen it.


  1. #### S P O I L E R #### A L E R T ####

    I found it surprising that most of the jams were personal. The audience has to consider this vigilante justice element of The East's efforts when trying to empathize with them. Zal and Brit keep you guessing who is the hero and who is the villan, who is virtuous and who vile, and the answer is not so black and white.

  2. ####SPOILTER ALERT#######
    Hey Aaron,
    Yes, there is certainly that aspect of vigilante justice. I think we tend to sympathize more with characters that are exacting personal revenge rather than acting on behalf of others, (ex: Mar in Sin City, Beatriz Kiddo in Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2, Slim in Enough). Brit and Zal were really smart about how they wrote the members of The East to keep them sympathetic to the viewer.

    Thanks for the comment Aaron!