As we follow Sarah in doing her job, we get what is probably a realistic picture of the dynamics of an activist group that is committed to social change. They can be appealing in their playfulness, dedicated in their commitment, and in, at times, oddball behavior. Their histories, as they are gradually revealed make their positions understandable. When they are at their most daring, however, it is shocking, and our sympathies are pulled in different directions at once. The legitimate question posed is where the boundaries of activism should lie—something every individual might answer differently.
Brit Marling is a superb actress who occupies seamlessly every character she portrays (as in Another Earth, Arbitrage, The Company You Keep). She keeps her character fresh and genuine and subtly uses her body and voice to help convey the character’s experience. Patricia Clarkson is another fine actress who can be convincing in a wide range of roles. And Ellen Page—the sassy teenager in Juno has easily evolved to be able to play a rather terrifying adult. Alexander Skarsgard is proving himself in consistently fine performances, most recently in The East, What Maisie Knew, Disconnect, and Melancholia. The rest of the cast likewise contribute to the quality of this film.
A major strength of The East is a script by writer/director Zal Batmanflij and co-writer Marling that keeps an audience guessing as to what will happen next, while pulling one’s sense of ethics this way and that. The writers have done a fantastic job in presenting all sides of the tension/dilemma between corporate over-reach and viable ways for conscientious people to respond. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered physical, mental, and property damage as a result of irresponsible corporations who put profit ahead of human welfare. But the response of an eye-for-an-eye/tooth-for-a -tooth is not the answer either. One reason the script is so good is that it offers a reasonable solution at the end. One of the three best movies of the year so far. Grade: A