Esteban Gonzalez’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Spy on us, we'll spy on you."
The East teams up director Zal Batmanglij with actress Brit Marling once again after their collaboration in Sound of My Voice. Once again they co-wrote the screenplay after having spent some time with several anarchist groups in order to write a believable script. The East is an interesting thriller that had me guessing what was going to happen next. It has its weak moments (the beginning is a little slow and the final act leaves several questions unanswered) but the middle act is very strong and it raises several ethical and moral questions. I loved Marling, Skarsgard, and Page in this film. There were some elements that reminded me a lot of Martha Marcy May Marlene despite this being an anarchist group and not a sect. That film had a much stronger ending, but here the middle act kind of creates a similar atmosphere with the leader of the group (Skarsgard) showing his influence and charisma over the rest. Perhaps this film doesn't work as a psychological character study like that one, but there are some weird things going on inside the group, but in a way you sympathize with them despite their "eye for an eye" philosophy. At the end you are left with a sense of having wanted to see more, but the movie is still entertaining and goes into unknown and unexplored territory. Marling is such a great actress, if she can't find the role she is looking for she doesn't lay down, she simply writes a character she would like to play and does it. Ellen Page is also great in her supporting performance and delivers once again on every scene. The East won't be on my list of top films of the year, but it is still highly recommendable watching!
Jane (Brit Marling) works for an important private intelligence agency run by Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) and is assigned to infiltrate an anarchist group known as The East. Jane has spent the last nine months getting prepared for her assignment by studying the reserved group. They are an eco-terrorist group that publicly attack the CEO's of big corporations such as oil companies or pharmaceutical drug distributors that are aware of the harm they cause and try to cover it up. The East pays these people with the same coin, for instance if a drug has dangerous side effects and these CEO's are paying people off to distribute them, they simply force the same drug on them. Once Jane infiltrates the group, under the covert name of Sarah, she befriends these eco-friendly anarchists who are led by Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). He is a charismatic leader and has the members of the group do strange things like eat food they gather from dumpsters or bathe each other. The other members of the group are Izzy (Ellen Page), Doc (Toby Kebbell), Luca (Shiloh Fernandez), Tess (Danielle MacDonald), and Thumbs (Aldis Hodge). As Jane begins recollecting information she becomes more and more sympathetic towards their cause as opposed to the private firm she works for that is only concerned in defending these rich CEO's.
The East raises a lot of moral questions and lets the audience decide what side to take. It doesn't try to manipulate us into deciding one way or another. We see things through the lead character's eyes as she begins to be influenced by this group. They seem to be fighting for the right cause, but the way they do things through terrorist acts is immoral. Everyone seems to have their heart in the right place. The screenwriters did a decent job with the script creating a tense atmosphere that had me glued to the screen despite the flaws. I wasn't disappointed despite having high expectations for The East. My favorite thing about this movie beside the heavy political eco-friendly message were the performances from the strong cast.