Most helpful critical review
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Worth spying on
on 28 June 2013
We are watching you, Zal Batmanglij. His first film as writer-director, Sound of My Voice, was a beautifully concise, thought-provoking dive into the psychology of the cult. While not quite up to the standard of that film, The East covers similar socially-conscious ground with similarly intriguing results.
Brit Marling returns, this time as the undercover operative entering the group, here an anarchist-freeganist party calling themselves The East, who punish the CEOs of unethical megacorporations in the manner of the companies' crimes. What could have been an arrow-straight case of the ultra-conservative corporate agent revealing her nice lefty side is made complicated by the fact that Sarah uncovers dubious motives and behaviour on both sides. The East is most successful when it is smearing the black and white and making it grey.
It is least successful when it wears its polemics on its sleeve. The straight-up ethical debate scenes, while laudable in their content, can come across as preachy. Although it doesn't outright demonise anyone, it's pretty clear where the filmmakers' sympathies lie, and at times an air of sanctimony undermines the drama.
But this shouldn't detract from what the film does really well. When the script is focused and flowing, it's absolutely gripping, and exquisitely detailed - a throwaway line often paints a detailed picture, without recourse to plodding backstory. There are no dud performances from the cast. And, aesthetically, the film has the same dusky atmosphere that made its predecessor so seductive.
This is recommended for those looking for an evocative, twisting, dense, and serious thriller. Just be ready for the arguments afterwards.