Having a vague idea of what you’re in for might help, but even then I was still surprised by some of the scenes in this rather bohemian take on extremist corporate terrorism. Luckily though, I found that it hit the right buttons, reminding one that you can still find a healthy dose of art infused in a politically charged espionage thriller.
A low level private security operative goes undercover in a suspected domestic terrorist organization called The East, known for targeting multi-billion dollar corporations. At first the quest is simply to confirm their existence, then their capabilities – to gauge if they’re simply menaces or a real threat, and ultimately their intent. But of course the waters become muddied once she ingratiates herself with this off the wall group, learning and understanding their idealistic values as she begins to question her own morality and the concept of true justice.
If you like intelligent spicy thrillers (that DON’T carry that typical Hollywood shine), you’re sure to enjoy this film. It’s stylishly filmed, grungy and intense, albeit with a couple of strangely weird and vaguely creepy scenes to keep you on your toes.
The Bottom Line
This film comes from the writing duo of Brit Marling (also starring) and Director Zal Batmanglij who gained recognition for a little Indy film called “The Sound of my voice” (a pseudo-documentary sci-fi type film about a couple who infiltrate a cult, whose leader claims to be from the future). It just missed out on my “Top films of 2012 you may have missed” simply because it was a limited release project… though it did make some noticeable ripples in the film community, so much so that they managed to get backing from Scott Free Productions – yes, from Ridley and the late Tony Scott, as well as Michael Costigan). So, the duo have taken some of those ideas and applied it here in a broader Pelican Brief/Erin Brockovich type story, with excellent and slightly eery results as they explore what exactly one would need to resort to anarchy when there is no religious angle, and how far they’d be willing to go, intimately and personally, in order to fully commit to an ideal.
Honestly, it did take me a while to warm to Sarah (the undercover agent played by Brit Marling) but as things progress, her understated straight-edged character makes more sense when entering the murky and mysterious world of The East. This group initially also resembles some kind of cult with a scruffy looking Alexander Skarsgard (with a vague resemblance to images of Jesus) as their leader. She finds that this group of oddball misfits, with the likes of Toby Kebbell (War Horse) as Doc and Ellen Paige as Izzy, are more than some random bunch of disgruntled citizens looking to stick it to the man. Izzy, for one, has a very direct and personal agenda.
The media no doubt plays a massive role, as always, with the extra slant of perception in deciphering what or who the good and bad guys are, all from what the media feeds the public.
As a film it moves along at a decent pace always keeping you intrigued with several surprises along the way. What elevated it for me, in addition to the top notch performances, was simply the composition of the filmmaking which always felt fresh, although the classically rich soundtrack deserves special mention, successfully adding that extra dimension to the most pivotal scenes.
Some might have grievance with the ‘tie-up’ in the final Act, or the “good looking hippies”, but I believe that’s simply a case of semantics and personal preference.
Perhaps it was my jovial mood on ITK’s 2nd Birthday, or that it offered ample reprieve from the drivel of some other film the night before, but it culminated in a really enjoyable and memorable watch – It’s not perfect and not one you’d see repeatedly, but it does linger in mind in the right way.