Before I talk about The East, it's pretty important that I talk about Brit Marling's hoodie in The East:
Now. The real deal about The East. OBVIOUSLY I really only wanted to see it because Alexander Skarsgard is in it (I know, I know, YAWN) but but but (and this is important) I wouldn't just like it for that reason. Like, I might watch it more than once for that reason because, you know, YUM, but in the end, I'm not going to say I like a film if I don't, no matter who's in it. It's because of this I could be SO scathing about The Astronaut's Wife (and I am crazy about Johnny Depp) and part of the reason I didn't even bother writing a review for the Straw Dogs remake that Skarsgard was also in (the other reason is laziness. But I really didn't like it.)
And you know what? I liked The East. I really did. It was one of those times where, leaving the cinema on a Skarsgard high, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about the movie aside from that part where Skarsgard was in the bath and... Other parts, but a few days later when I found myself thinking about some of the issues actually explored in the film, it suddenly clicked and Ah! I did like the film for its storyline and things aside from stellar casting decisions! Which is honestly a relief to know.
So, the story. The East starts and ends with Brit Marling's character, Sarah, and it's really all about her journey- an ex-CIA (FBI? I forget) operative, now working for an actual private company as an undercover agent whose job is to infiltrate The East- a left wing group that targets evil corporations to try and repay them with some measure of the things they've done to others. Even though Sarah completely disagrees with some of their methods, she comes to sympathise with their aims and to question everything she once thought was true about the world and about her life.
And that's just the core of the film, and surrounding that is The East itself. Kiiiind of led by the charismatic (read: beautiful) Benji (Skarsgard) and all gathered around the same goals and a commitment to a certain (read: communal, hippy-esque) way of life, they're kind of a beautiful group. There are people of almost every ostracised group in society represented, and as you learn more about certain characters, their motives for wanting to be a part of such a group become increasingly clear- and sometimes in heartbreaking ways.
For what it's worth, I kind of loved them all- even though I definitely have some issues with their methods, I have incredible empathy and love for basically all of them, and you know what, let's just say it, I totally get where they're coming from. The people behind corporations are almost NEVER held responsible for their actions, purely because they have 'The Corporation' to hide behind, and it's kind of disturbing to realise the things they can get away with. (I don't know how much, or if any of the stories told in The East are true, but I know enough about such things to know that they very easily could be). The East are really just trying to balance the scales here, and can I blame them for it? Not really.
Slight feminist moment- This film didn't even need to try to pass The Bechdel Test because there were plenty of women in the group, the lead character is a woman and, imagine this, she's a woman who has more on her mind than finding a man to marry her! GASP! (Whether or not this is because she's already engaged is neither here nor there). It's actually refreshing to realise you've just watched a film where, for example, Sarah and Izzy (Ellen Page) haven't had a conversation about who likes Benji more, and where as a group they talk about things that actually matter as opposed to who's sleeping with who (my own thoughts: everyone is either sleeping with, or want to sleep with, Benji. But I would say that). I attribute most of this to Brit Marling being one of the writers, and I love her for it and now I kind of want to watch everything she's done? Yeah, that.
On reflection, then, I liked The East for more things than Skarsgardian abs, and that's about the highest praise I can give a movie. It's the first movie for a long time I can remember even thinking about for longer than about 5 minutes, and it's way smarter than it needs to be, but not so smart that it becomes inaccessible. And if you don't like gender equality in your cults then I don't know what to do with you.
*Shit, people like monitor the internet, right? I'm totally kidding, scary Government types! I'd never break laws and stuff! Unless someone really pissed me off, that is...