Movies: "The East" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "The East"
Movies: "The East"

So here’s a low-key thriller about eco-terrorism with none of the usual car chases, explosions and gruesome murders.  

Sounds refreshing, doesn’t it?  What makes it even more unusual is that it was produced by the brothers Scott (Ridley and Tony), best known for their high-impact action movies (“Black Hawk Down,” “Man on Fire,” etc.).

 

Brit Marling (who co-starred with Robert Redford in “The Company You Keep”) plays Sarah, a former FBI agent now working for a top-level security contractor, Hiller Brood, which sends her out to infiltrate an anarchist band known as the East.  These kids wreak fitting vengeance on major polluters, pouring oil all over an energy magnate’s palatial home or forcing a mine owner and his spokeswoman to jump in the company’s poisoned catch basin.  

 

In between what they call “jams,” the East engage in curious activities such as eating dinner in strait jackets or sharing communal baths.  They also give Sarah enough time off from terrorist training to report back to her boss, played by veteran actress Patricia Clarkson. 

 

The East is led by Benji (their names are all fake), played by the Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard (of “True Blood” and the son of the great Stellan Skarsgard).  With his wispy beard and high voice, he’s hardly your usual gang boss, but his American accent is spot-on, and when he flashes a rare smile, it’s easy to see why Sarah falls for him.  Among the other East members are tough-talking Izzy (Ellen “Juno” Page) and a sympathetic doctor with serious health problems (Toby Kebbell).

 

Among the other supporting players here are Jamey Sheridan and Julia Osmond as assorted capitalists.

 

“The East” was directed by Zal Batmanglij, and was co-written by him and his friend Brit Marling.  Apparently, during their early years, the two fell in with a group of anarchists and even rode the rails, just like Sarah does in the movie.  The excellent cinematography is by Roman Vasyanov, whose most recent work includes the inventive police thriller “End of Watch.”  The variegated music is provided by Halli Cauthery and Harry Gregson-Williams, both of whom scored such terrific movies as “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town.”

 

 With its take on eco-revenge and a later plot twist involving private contractor agents, “The East” could not be more timely.  Its weaknesses include some gaping plot holes, not the least of which is why these anarchists would so quickly welcome a newcomer, then let her leave from time to time.

 

Never mind.  It’s not a dumb movie and it’s another alternative to a summer of bombast.  “The East” is rated PG-13 for mild violence and adult themes.  I give it a B.

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