Director Zal Batmanglij (The Sound of My Voice (2011)) dissects the moral circumstances taken by a small group of environmental terrorists, known as ‘The East’, as they launch attacks against faceless corporations throughout the world. As The East begins to obtain global media recognition for their efforts the corporations begin to take note of The East’s antics. An independent intelligence firm (whose sole clients are the threatened entities) has just hired a new operative, Sarah (Brit Marling). Her first assignment is to locate the cell, enter their ranks, and divulge all information relating to the firm’s client base.
After a chance meeting, Sarah soon succeeds and is taken in as a trusted accomplice. The East isn’t just the type of group that hates all things consumerism and materialistic. Sarah soon learns that the group is hell-bent on revenge due to personal stories of tragedies and hardships created by the corporations that they now target. Before long, Sarah swiftly encounters her own conflicting principles regarding how The East attacks the individuals responsible for corporation’s actions and the atrocities those same corporations cause to the general population.
The East’s leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), is the supposed mastermind and implementer of all decisions made within the group. However, the amount of bite he has reminds me of the dog that shares his same name from those cheesy 1980s Disney movies. As the shifting group of misfit rebels with specialized skills conjure up demonic payback to corporations, the threat of being revealed becomes even greater with each attack. Whether it’s infecting a conglomerate’s CFO party guest’s drinks with hazardous drugs or making employees bathe in chemical waste, The East has their eyes set on revenge and nothing more.
The East comes up with good analytical conversations about ways corporations inflict damage by only focusing on their quarterly monetary goals instead of reflecting on the negative impacts they cause on the environment and local stakeholders. However, once the story moves away from the group’s wicked paybacks and tries to have a love story blossom between Sarah and Benji, the reckoning is lost. The analytical tone losses its grit. It’s as if the story slips into some Air Jordans, hops in their Hummer, and orders a Grande Frappacino from Starbucks on its way home before taking a nap.
For all of the spying and manipulating, the love story and final conclusion felt too rushed and insubstantial. It’s a shame because the build up to the recruitment of Sarah, her infiltration, and the types of revenge the cell completed set the final act up nicely for a first-rate espionage thriller. Instead, you feel like you received a large pepperoni pizza from Pizza Shack when all you wanted was an apple picked from your backyard.