The East - Blu-ray Review

'Perhaps we're just too far away from old fashioned thrillers to ever fully get back there, but at least The East proves a step in the right direction'

Describing a film as 'an old-fashioned Thriller' used to carry the connotation, at least for me, that the film in question was quite good, maybe similar in style and quality to the 1970s Paranoia Thrillers that populated the genre with tension and threat. Now though, I would argue, describing a film as such means something different.

So rare are Thrillers which focus on ideas and clever scripts, as opposed to explosions and action, that describing something as an old-fashioned Thriller connotes that it is part of a genre now on the verge of dying out, a genre that once valued ideas and no longer does. Compare the reviews and trailers of the new Jack Ryan film to the ones starring Harrison Ford. Thrillers, at least in the way that word was once meant, no longer seem to exist.

Whilst The East may have its problems, some of them significant, it is at least 'an old-fashioned Thriller' in both senses of that phrase. The narrative concerning the infiltration of an extremist group of environmentalists by operative Sarah (Brit Marling) is suitably paranoid and full of ideas, particularly when the ideologies of the group in question (the titular East) are examined and questioned, sometimes internally and compared to the world at large. There is some action but it's mainly low key and marginalised: story, character progression and the central conceit rule all here.

Director Zal Batmanglij - working for a second time with Marling, who co-writes - orchestrates the Thriller elements well. Sarah is shown as somewhat sceptical of her own organisation, personified by Patricia Clarkson's superior, planting doubts about exactly what her own motivations are. Meanwhile, the group dynamic within The East feels well-rounded, thanks to individualised characters, each given time by Batmanglij. Izzy (Ellen Page) gets the strongest story of the central trio (rounded out by Alexander SkarsgÄrd and Toby Kebbell) but there is thought given here to making each one of them a person, rather than an anonymous collective.

The problem, harking back to Batmanglij and Marling's previous collaboration, The Sound Of My Voice, is a drastic lack of heart or ability to make us care about key players. Whereas Rhoda in Another Earth (another character played by Marling, in a film written by her but directed by Mike Cahill) gave us plenty of reason to care, Sarah reveals little. Her relationship with her partner is fraught from the off and the muddled romances that emerge from The East never feel anything but fleeting. The finale relies on you caring about and believing in a group of people you don't meet in the narrative and rarely, despite their background - Page accepted - do the supposed villains give you much cause to identify or sympathise with.

Perhaps we're just too far away from old fashioned thrillers to ever fully get back there, but at least The East proves a step in the right direction and a continuation of Marling's promising career.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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