Sunday, September 29, 2013

The East Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
From producer Ridley Scott and directed by Zal Batmanglij comes a taut, sexy thriller starring Brit Marling (Arbitrage), Alexander Skarsgard (TV's “True Blood”) and Oscar Nominee Ellen Page. Sarah Moss (Marling) is an ambitious new recruit at an elite private intelligence firm. Her first undercover assignment is to infiltrate “The East,” an elusive activist collective that terrorizes corporate leaders who commit crimes against humanity. The more involved she gets, the more Sarah’s life is in danger in eco-thriller with a stellar cast. Director Batmanglij and the film's star Brit Marling traveled the country living off the grid, looking for an organized intelligent group trying to make a difference and this film is a result of those experiences and was a 2013 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection and a SXSW Official Selection as well.
Film (3 out of 5 stars)

The anarchist collective, The East has threatened to counter attack three corporations. Sarah (Brit Marling) works for a private security company headed by Sharon (Patricia Clarkson). Sarah has been tasked with infiltrating the eco terrorist group. She dies her hair, lies to her boyfriend about where she is going and hopes to meet up with some members of The East. Sarah's first interesting prospect turns out to be a fed but she soon finds the people she is looking for.

Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) is the leader of the East, whose members include a young girl named Izzy (Ellen Page). Izzy is immediately distrustful of the stranger who has happened upon the group. Sarah is repeatedly tested and slowly becomes welcome in the group. She gets her “in” when she is needed to take part in the group's next “jam” where they turn a harmful drug Denoxin against the pharmaceutical executives who created and marketed it as safe.  Another company becomes a target when fish and residents are being knowingly poisoned. Sarah is shown video of a mother timing the baths of her children, knowing the water they bathe in is toxic. Although the executives claim publicly and adamantly that they have done no harm to the surrounding environment they quickly change their tune when their own lives are in danger.

The East offers up many questions and many answers are left to the viewers interpretation. It's clear that consumerism is out of control in our country. Sarah learns that one can live off dumpster diving and would be amazed at the quality and quantity of items they find. Bigger insights come when she proudly alerts her boss of an upcoming attack only to learn that the company being targeted is not her firms client. Sarah thinks she is on the right side but starts to question everything about her life and her beliefs. The East's leader Benji wants an eye for an eye – no more and no less. He is willing to destroy careers and lives for the greater good.  Who the bad guy is in this film depends on your own moral compass. This film is all about gray areas. Some gladly cast a blind eye to the issues of the planet. Others consider inactivity an indifference to be criminal acts. The most interesting questions in my mind come when you think about fighting evil with evil and what that really makes you.

As someone who wanted to see this film simply because I love Alexander Skarsgard in "True Blood", I got a much heavier evening than I expected. Granted, I didn't bother to ask what the film was about or even read the back cover before popping the Blu-ray in the player. Although Skarsgard's clothes do come off, I caution fans of "True Blood" to hesitate on this one if they don't want to be given strong moral dilemmas and weighty issues to think about.  It's clear that everyone that was involved in this project must have read the script and felt they had to be a part of this. It's well acted, touching, and heart wrenching. Most people probably won't be mobilized to action after watching The East, but most will at least think about being lucky they have safe water to drink and will realize how wasteful they are on any given day. 

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

The East is presented on blu ray in a widescreen 2.35:1 ratio. The film's darker scenes have a bit of noise but overall the visual quality is above average. Living off the grid, there is immense detail to be noticed in peeling walls, dirty hair and environmental textures. Skin tones are realistic and accurate throughout the film.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

The East's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also impressive. The sounds of nature like birds or crackling leaves were authentic and added to the viewing/listening experience. Running or dripping water, in particular was so realistic that I once stopped to see if a nearby faucet was in fact still on. The film's signature piano piece comes from the Director's brother, and is chilling at times. Dialogue is consistent and intelligible whether the cast is yelling for help or whispering to one another.

Extras (3 out of 5 stars) 

The Theatrical Behind the Scenes featurettes are interesting to watch, especially learning about how the story came about and the research of the Director and his Co-writer/star.
  • Deleted scenes - Available individually or with a play all feature - :43 Denoxin Survivors, :37 Izzy's Room, :08 Escape, 2:45 Alternate Ending
  • Theatrical Behind the Scenes – The East Exposed: The Story, Off the Grid: Creating The East, Casting the East, Two Brothers: Collaboration, Cause and Effect: The Movement of The East, and Examining The Moral Gray
  • Theatrical Trailer

Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The East has a great cast full of actors you will certainly know and some you will take notice of in the future. The film has a powerful message and brings up many answerable and rhetorical questions. For those of us that assume drugs wouldn't be on the market unless they were safe this definitely gives food for thought. It's certainly thought provoking, and I'm guessing that would be seen as a huge compliment to the filmmakers. The film is about deciding if the ends justify the means. As Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.” This is recommended for those looking for this type of film. Standard thriller-junkies will likely be disappointed.

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