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DIRECTOR: Zal Batmanglij
CAST: Alexander Skarsgård, Patricia Clarkson, Ellen Page, Brit Marling.
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
CORPORATE espionage meets eco-terrorism in this terribly well-meaning film co-written by the director and lead actress.
Brit Marling plays Sarah, an operative for a private American security company who infiltrates an anarchic group only to experience a crisis of conscience as she gets to know more about the other side.
She starts off stealing train rides with drop-outs but eventu-ally finds herself deep in the woods with a group of anarchists who are either eco-activists or terrorists, depending on your viewpoint.
As Sarah finds out their individual stories she becomes more enamoured of the group’s charismatic leader, Benji (Skarsgård), and less sure of her previously clear-cut mission to put the company first.
The film is well paced, playing out like a spy thriller – except this isn’t about governments or gangsters, it’s about big corporations protecting their assets and behinds.
At the same time, The East – the group of anarchists Sarah investigates – gives us the human stories of people affected by corporate obsession with the bottom dollar at the expense of the environment.
The character studies are well handled. The techno-savvy anarchists are fleshed out enough that they feel like real people, but at the same time the filmmakers do show the effects of their actions, so they are not painted as saints.
Apparently actress Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij spent the summer of 2009 living with an anarchist collective, practising freeganism – an anti-consumerism movement which espouses reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded and using alternative living strategies that boycott consumerism.
This is something practised very much in the UK and the US, but seen from a South African perspective it comes across as rather patronising: there are people living here who are forced to live like this; for them it’s not some hippy-dippy choice.
A scene which uses an allegory about long spoons is not only a revelatory moment for a seriously unexposed and uneducated audience; it’s a very old motif which pops up in Judeo-Christian as well as all sorts of Eastern folklore. So, how believable is Sarah at this point for not understanding what is expected of her?
This is where the well-meaning tone of the film will grate for anyone not in the US or UK. Yes, the issue of making big corporates accountable for their misdeeds is very topical, but making a film about what you value most only works when you have things you can choose from to value.
On the technical level the film is well made but the message is so noble as to be smug.
If you liked The Debt or Never Let Me Go you will like this.