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The East (2013)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/3/2013

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/3/2013

Presumably, cults have existed for thousands of years. There have been plenty of groups of people who get together for a specific cause, often religious, and splinter away from mainstream society. Thanks to pop culture (which includes the world "cult"), when we think of cults today, we either picture the Manson family or a group of hooded and robed figures standing around a bonfire. However, the definition of cult can be very broad, and as we see in The East, the ideals that a group follows may be easy to understand, but difficult to justify.

The East introduced us to Jane (Brit Marling), a former FBI agent who has gotten a new position at a private security agency headed by Sharon (Patricia Clarkson). The firm's clients include many large companies who are concerned about a group who call themselves "The East". This group of eco-terrorists like to strike big corporations who have created problems with the environment. Dying her hair and going by the name Sarah, our young heroine begins living "off of the grid" in an attempt to find The East. Soon, Sarah meets Luca (Shiloh Fernandez) who takes her to The East's hide-out. There, she meets Benji (Alexander Sarsgard), the group's leader, and Izzy (Ellen Page), who doesn't trust Sarah. Sarah learns about the groups "jams" -- their projects -- and relays information back to Sharon. But, can Sarah be a part of The East and not begin to see their point?

Feeling very timely and topical, The East puts a new spin on the old idea of a cult. As we've seen in other movies, the group is diverse and follows a charismatic leader. They live in an abandoned house, and do little to draw attention to themselves. The film takes a turn to the original with the groups politics and actions. They are part activist group, as they pick "jams" which target companies who have hurt individuals or the environment without consequences, but they are also like a terrorist cell, as they break the law and do not hesitate to hurt or even kill their subjects in order to get their point across. The film makes some interesting points about life in corporate America, where the little guy often gets shafted and has no one to speak up for them. Along with the obvious oil and chemical companies, The East also hits a pharmaceutical firm, which is an interesting and decidedly contemporary choice. We also see the flipside of this coin, as Sharon doesn't always operate very ethically, showing that even supposedly "good" companies don't put humans in very high regard.

The issues presented her raise moral questions for both Sarah and the audience. The companies involved certainly deserve to be punished, but what right does The East have to convey that punishment? The group's activities go far beyond civil disobedience and they truly hurt some people. And, as we know, two wrongs don't make a right. But, the fact that we can see the seriousness of the issues here, even if we don't agree with the methods, makes it difficult to totally disregard The East's action. Thus, when Sarah begins to question her mission, we understand.

Star Marling and Director Zal Batmanglij have created an interesting script, so why didn't they finish writing it? Early on, we learn that Jane is a Christian and this is pointed out in a "this will come back later" kind of way. But, it doesn't. Perhaps the film was trying to imply that due to her Christian beliefs, she understood The East's views on helping the powerless -- if this is the case, it was way too subtle about it. The movie is suspenseful and engaging at times, but the ending is a real let-down. The story just fizzles out, and while we know Jane's plan, it feels paltry compared to the rest of the movie. Marling is an interesting actress who makes compelling film choices, and the rest of the cast is good as well, but The East still feels incomplete.

The East does the world a favor with the demise of one of its characters on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture shows a nice amount of detail, as we can see textures on objects, and the depth is good as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For the most part, this is a somewhat quiet film, but there are certainly some scenes where the audio shines. The second "jam" contains some action which provides good stereo and surround effects. We also get some nice stereo effects in the house, where sounds come from various rooms.

The East Blu-ray Disc brings several extras. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes. All of these are very brief, including the "alternate ending" (which is extremely vague). In actuality, this only goes for 3 minutes, and we are then treated to 1 minute and 46 seconds of blank screen. Thanks Fox! "The East Exposed: The Story" (3 minutes) has the cast and Director Zal Batmanglij give an overview of the story and some of its themes. Marling and Batmanglij talk about their real-life research with fringe groups and how they brought these experiences to the screen in "Off the Grid: Creating The East" (3 minutes). "Casting The East" (3 minutes) has the actors commenting on their characters and what drew them to the script. Zal and his brother, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, discuss a musical piece written for the film in "Two Brothers: Collaboration" (3 minutes). "Cause and Effect: The Movement of The East" (3 minutes) explores the political themes of the film. "Examining the Moral Gray" (5 minutes) has Malcolm Gladwell interviewing Batmanglij and Marling following a Tribeca screening. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.