Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The East (15)

The secret to anything is good timing. Producers and film companies can do everything in their power to publicise a film, but occasionally something happens in the world to drive their message home in a way they couldn't have hoped for,

And it's unlikely, living all the way over there in America Land, that writer/producer/star Brit Marling and writer/director Zal Batmanglij could know that here on our little island homestead we have our own version of The East unfolding - as politicians debate undercover policing and questions being raised about the way big businesses are treated.

You don't have to be aware of such stories, of course, to enjoy The East, but it adds another dimension to an already enthralling, captivating tale. We should all be aware of such stories just because they effect our daily lives, but that's a lecture for another day.

For those who have missed the buzz, The East are a group of anarchists who have decided giant corporations should pay for their crimes against the world - crimes that we see going on all the time. Oil spills, drugs with harmful side effects, pollution - all are punishable acts in the eyes of The East.

Now obviously Johnny Smartsuit doesn't like being targeted, and so a private security firm is brought in to try and infiltrate The East and bring to an end their nefarious doings. And so it is that Brit Marling's Jane (aka Sarah) is tasked with getting the inside scoop on the gang.

And it's through Brit that we see the black and white world dissolve into a thousand shades of grey. Which is where the film comes into its own.

By getting to know the gang and their personal stories, we see the lines blur between right and wrong as the convictions of those who feel wronged are put up against the wrong-doers who see themselves as the victims.

And that is just one of the beauties of this film - there is no moralising, there are no sides taken, nothing is clear cut. There may be messages to take home (and you will, or certainly should), but no one is sitting in judgement here. The story is allowed to play out in its own time, leaving the audience to decide which side of the fence they are on.

And it's not just through Brit's conflicted character - as she is forced to undertake 'jams' (assignments, attacks, call them what you want - The East call them jams and I'm not gonna argue with them) to maintain her cover - that you are drawn in. It's the way the rest of The East are portrayed that will have you hooked.

Through leader Benji (the compelling Alexander Skarsgard. He has an accent over the second 'a', but my life is too short to work out where the hell I find it on this keyboard), feisty Izzy (the ever brilliant Ellen Page), the brooding Luca (Shiloh Fernandez, last seen in Evil Dead) and the troubled, injured Doc (Yorkshire's very own Toby Kebbell in stunning form) we are drawn into a world of warm, passionate people who are driven by a common cause.

By making the gang so, for want of a better word, likeable, you are drawn quickly into their world. These aren't the raving lunatics portrayed by an establishment-favouring media, these are human beings who genuinely believe they are righting the world's wrongs - and the grievances they target are genuine and moving (and utterly believable).

In Skarsgard's Benji, Marling and Batmanglij have created a warm, passionate, driven character who you can't help falling for. If they'd made him a lunatic cult leader, this would have been a very different film, but by making him human - yet portrayed with a core of steel as only Skarsgard can muster - you remain transfixed while he is on screen.

But this isn't just a film about the little people going up against The Man. This is an intelligent thriller built around human characters, a thriller that doesn't flag up its twists and turns but leaves you guessing throughout (I was caught out at least twice as the unexpected came to pass). No fanfares either, everything is delivered with the same subtle, measured pace. The East is almost two hours long and yet felt half that (something some shorter films have failed to manage) as it kept you fixed on the screen.

The real star here is, of course, Brit - someone I've seen dubbed as 'the darling of the Indie scene', when she's much more than that.

This isn't the first film she's written - she's also responsible for the much-lauded Sound Of My Voice, and the divisive yet not panned Another Earth - nor her first acting role (she was subtle yet brilliant in Arbitrage at the start of the year alone), but here she's pulled off something special.

Her character is living a double life, a life that makes less sense the more she discovers, yet at no point is she anything other than captivating. It could have been a risk taking on so many roles within one production, but she balances her many hats (there's an image) with aplomb, producing a performance of staggering maturity.

As I said, this is a film that will keep you guessing - and it will make you think. It's not compulsory, sure, but if you don't find yourself seeing the world differently afterwards I suggest you go watch it again.

Driving home after watching The East I found myself judging every company vehicle I saw, wondering what crimes they may have committed against the world and what The East would do about it. I was behind a van for Viking. The poor sods only do office supplies, but I don't trust them after watching The East.

In fact I don't trust anyone anymore. Except Brit. You can trust Brit.


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