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An undercover investigator's moral compass begins to change when she infiltrates an anarchist group responsible for targeting major corporations. When the CEOs of high profile companies find themselves the victims of a number of covert attacks, former FBI agent Sarah Moss (Brit Marling) is recruited by private intelligence firm Hiller Brood to gather information on 'The East', a shadowy eco-activist collective thought to be responsible. After finally managing to infiltrate the group, however, Sarah discovers her allegiances beginning to shift, as she increasingly begins to question the moral uncertainties of her life and finds herself falling under the spell of the group's charismatic leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård).
For more about The East and the The East Blu-ray release, see the The East Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on September 21, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Zal Batmanglij
» See full cast & crew
The East Blu-ray Review
A Waste-Not-Want-Not Eco-Thriller
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, September 21, 2013
The apple that's bruised on one side. The slightly stale bag of chips. The carton of milk three days past its "expiration" date. All usually end up in the garbage. A recent NPR article highlights the obvious but too often overlooked paradox: "Hundreds of millions of people go hungry, and yet we waste a whopping 1.43 billion tons of food—one third of what we produce. Food waste is a problem in rich countries and poor countries alike, and it's happening throughout the supply chain—from the farm to the truck to the warehouse to the store to your refrigerator." It's an alarming issue, but one that's typically met with a shrug or, at most, a quickly forgotten sense of concern.
The opposite of this what-can-be-done complacency is the hardcore anti-consumerist "freegan" lifestyle, which involves foraging, dumpster diving, and an emphasis on sharing and community. It's a form of pointed economical anarchy, out to prove there are other ways of living besides the power structures currently in place. In 2009, with the recession in full-swing, aspiring filmmaker Zal Batmanglij and his friend, economics major-turned- writer/actress Brit Marling—who made 2011's microbudget cult drama The Sound of My Voice together—set out to live as freegans for a summer, backpacking with anarchist collectives, sleeping on rooftops, and "reclaiming" discarded food for sustenance. Their experiences inspired their co-written screenplay for The East, a taut eco-thriller where the eco stands both for "ecology" and "economy." It's a smart, taut film, as thought-provoking as it is suspenseful.
Marling stars as Sarah Moss, an ambitious young agent at the Washington, D.C.-based private intelligence firm Hiller-Brood, which serves huge multinational conglomerates by protecting against corporate espionage and sabotage. When a mysterious eco-terrorist cell called The East pulls an eye- for-an-eye prank against an oil company's negligent CEO—they douse his home with black sludge—Sarah petitions her boss (Patricia Clarkson) to let her take the case. Convincing her long-suffering boyfriend (Jason Ritter) that she'll be incommunicado in Dubai for a few months, she actually goes undercover up and down the east coast, backpacking with crust-punks and freegans in an effort to get recruited by the group.
Her "in" is the lipstick-wearing bohemian Luca (Shiloh Fernandez), who takes her to The East's forest hideout—the overgrown shell of a burnt out mansion—where she meets the other key members: wary, hotheaded Izzy (Ellen Page), Doc (Tony Kebbell), a med school student forced to quit his studies after side-effects from an antibiotic left his hands permanently shaky, and Benji (True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård), their charismatic, messiah-like leader. Sarah quickly ingratiates herself, but just as quickly finds her own thinking swayed by the activists' communal, anti-materialist ideas. They live off of what can be scavenged from the bins behind supermarkets. They bathe and feed one another. They're utterly detached from the rat-race hecticness of modern life. They have a cause, and their message is convincing.
Their means of delivering it, however, are morally dubious. The group's next "jam" is to give the board members of a pharmaceutical company—the same company that made the drug that ended Doc's career—a literal taste of their own medicine, spiking the champagne at a party celebrating the scoring of a lucrative government contract. The dosage is high enough to cause severe issues, which raises the questions—is it worth making an example of a few execs who've turned a blind eye to the safety of their product if it can protect the thousands of patients who would've taken it? When, if ever, is violent activism justified? What does it take to wake people up?
The East offers no easy answers, and wisely lets the viewer come to his or her own conclusions. The aim here is not to convince us that one way is right, but to remind us that these complex and easily ignored ethical/metaphysical problems—how to live a good life, how to confront injustice, how to be—are worthy of more consideration than we normally give them. If this sounds pedantic, it's not, simply because the philosophizing is couched inside such a good story, with fascinating characters and intricate arcs. There's Sarah's strained relationship with her boyfriend, and the way she has trouble readjusting to "normal" life when The East goes on a temporary hiatus. There are friction-y intragroup dynamics and an expected, but well-done romantic element between Sarah and the dreamy, idealistic Benji. And as the danger mounts with each new "jam," The East hums with energy.
The film shares many similarities with The Sound of My Voice—both concern the infiltration of cultish groups and the possibilities of alternative lifestyles—but The East shows Zal Batmanglij growing as a filmmaker in style and storytelling ability. There's a definite atmosphere here, an earthy, haunted sadness over the inability to right the world's wrongs and live—truly live—with some kind of purity. And while this is no big-budget thriller, it's very rich in production design and performance quality. We've seen Ellen Page as a spunky firebrand before, but never with this much lived- in intensity. Skarsgård smolders, and Brit Marling—who came out of nowhere in Another Earth—once again proves to be a magnetic presence on screen, tough and vulnerable, gorgeous and smart. She and Batmanglij seem to be mutual muses, and their latest effort together is certainly inspired.
The East Blu-ray, Video Quality
Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling's previous film, The Sound of My Voice was shot on the cheap entirely with prosumer-grade Canon DSLRs, but they've since graduated to the much higher caliber Arri Alexa digital camera, working with up-and-coming cinematographer Roman Vasyanov. Together, they've crafted a film that looks far more expensive than it actually is. The movie's 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray transfer is start-to-finish gorgeous, with no picture quality distractions besides—if you really wanna nitpick—some heightened source noise during darker scenes. The Alexa is capable of creating a very filmic, organic-looking image, and that's absolutely the case here; the picture is lush and dimensional, with no discernible compression issues or other concerns. (No DNR, edge enhancement, etc.) What impresses most is just how sharp the footage is; fine detail is visible in every frame, with near- palpable facial and clothing textures. The color grading is excellent too; highlights are creamy and roll-off nicely, and the slightly warm cast in most scenes gives off an appropriately autumnal vibe.
The East Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that's quiet but well-designed, filled with the immersive ambience of chirping birds, leaf-rustling wind, and other outdoorsy noises. British/Icelandic composer Halli Cauthery contributes a tense if understated score, and the main theme— an accelerating piano piece in a mixed time signature—comes from the director's younger brother, Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij. The music has strong presence and clarity, and that goes for the mix as a whole as well. Dialogue sits at the forefront and is always clean and understandable. No issues here. The disc also includes lossy Spanish and French dubs—the former Dolby Digital 5.1, the latter DTS—as well as optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles.
The East Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The East Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Parts of The East smack of other recent films—Children of Men, Martha Marcy May Marlene—but the movie's cumulative effect is original and bracing. It's one of those rare thrillers that's tense, dramatically substantive, and thought-provoking, and filmmaking parters Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling have pulled all this off on a relatively minuscule budget. The East underperformed at the box office earlier this year, but it definitely deserves a wider audience on home video. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release is all-around strong, with an ultra-sharp 1080p transfer, a deft audio track, and a worthwhile collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes. Highly recommended!
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The East Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: September 17-24 - September 15, 2013
For the week of September 17th, horror-movie fans get a boost with the dueling releases of Paramount's World War Z and Scream Factory's Day of the Dead, as well as the flawed-but-fascinating first season of Bates Motel. Other titles include HBO's Behind the Candelabra, ...
• The East Blu-ray - July 9, 2013
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has officially announced that it will release on Blu-ray director Zal Batmanglij's thriller The East (2013), starring Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, and Ellen Page. The release will be available for purchase online and ...
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