The East (De Oost)


Take me to the river.

(2020) War (Magnet) Martijn Lakemeier, Marwan Kenzari, Jonas Smulders, Abel van Gijlswijk, Coen Bril, Reinout Scholten van Aschat, Jim Deddes, Jeroen Perceval, Mike Reus, Joenoes Polnaija, Denise Aznam, Peter Paul Muller, Huub Smit, Putri Ayudya, Lukman Sardi, David Wristers, Robert de Hoog, Reinout Bussemaker, Joes Brauers, Nanette Edens. Directed by Jim Taihuttu

 

Before the United States sank into the quagmire that was Vietnam, the Netherlands had Indonesia, or the Dutch East Indies as it was then known. It was 1945 and World War II had just ended. The Netherlands had been occupied for the bulk of the war by the Nazis and her East Asian colonies had been occupied by Japan. Now the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army was in the process of booting the Japanese out.

But the inhabitants of the many islands that make up Indonesia were fed up with colonialism. They wanted to rule themselves, to determine their own future. But they were divided by hundreds of islands and so there was fighting sprouting up all over the place and the army was sent in to quell these pockets of unrest that could turn into a full-blown rebellion if the various factions were to unite.

Into this atmosphere comes Johan de Vries (Lakemeier), a young man with redemption on his mind. His father had disgraced the family name – the name Johan had been born with – and when others in the company get wind of who Johan is – or rather, who his father is – things get a little dicey for him. He finds a role model in Raymond Westerling (Kenzari), known to the enlisted men as “The Turk” whose very simple black and white assessment of the situation has won the admiration of the men, and his non-nonsense results-oriented approach has many thinking that he should be in charge.

In fact, Westerling is soon given his own elite team of men in black uniforms that are eerily reminiscent of the Gestapo and they are sent to fight terror with some of their own. Westerling’s methods are brutal and final. At first, Johan is fine with those methods – he doesn’t exactly have a moral compass that points true north – but as he sees that their efforts are giving the Indonesians someone to unify against, he begins to reconsider his allegiance – and that the Turk cannot tolerate.

The depiction here of the Dutch army would prompt a lawsuit from a veteran’s group in the Netherlands who objected to the way the Dutch soldiers are portrayed, but director Jim Taihuttu sourced much of his material from the diaries of men who actually served in the conflict. The lawsuit eventually made its way through the Dutch courts where the defense was eventually successful in winning the case.

The depiction of the fighting men and the steamy jungle warfare harkens back to classic Vietnam war films like Apocalypse Now, Casualties of War and Platoon, and while some of the plot elements appear to have been at least inspired by those films (one could draw a direct line from Colonel Kurtz to the Turk and not be wrong), the movie has a sensibility all its own – perhaps because the war is largely unknown today, even in the Netherlands.

Both Lakemeier and Kenzari play morally compromised characters and do a fine job of making them both reasonably relatable, although Westerling eventually goes right off the rails at the very end. The fact that both men are so flawed makes them so compelling.

As war movies go, there is not nearly as much action in this film as you might expect, which in a nearly 2 ½ hour film may make attention-challenged Americans squirm a bit in their chairs. The middle third of the movie is a bit ponderous, and I could have done without the subplot about Johan’s relationship with an Indonesian prostitute. It’s that last third, however, that is where The East really shines. Truth be told though, I must admit I was a little bit disappointed by the ending, but it is telegraphed a little bit by the opening scenes.

All in all, this is a fairly densely packed movie that gives the audience a whole lot to think about, especially considering the morality of nations and of the soldiers. The Dutch soldiers feel nothing but disdain for the Indonesians, who they call “brown monkeys” (and worse) and essentially assert that the whole idea of independence is ludicrous because they couldn’t possibly govern themselves. Of course, time proved those soldiers wrong as Indonesia has one of the most vibrant economies on Earth currently.

I really liked the movie, but I can see how it won’t be for everyone. The run time might give some pause and the lack of spectacle even more so. However, it does bring to light a conflict that evidently we haven’t learned from nearly 80 years after the fact. If we had, we never would have stayed in Afghanistan as long as we did.

REASONS TO SEE: Gritty and dark. Some strong performances from the leads.
REASONS TO AVOID: Drags a bit in the middle and I’m not a fan of the ending.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, racial slurs, war violence, sex and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Taihuttu’s grandfather fought and died in the conflict as a member of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Alamo On-Demand, Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/17/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Platoon
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Not Going Quietly

The East


All signs point to The East.

All signs point to The East.

(2013) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Aldis Hodge, Danielle Macdonald, Hilary Baack, Jason Ritter, Julia Ormond, Jamey Sheridan, Billy Magnussen, Wilbur Fitzgerald, John Neisler, Pamela Roylance, Ryan Grego, Ava Bogle, Nick Fuhrmann, Patricia French. Directed by Zal Batmanglij

How difficult is it to uphold the law when the law protects the strong and harms the weak? Are you doing the right thing then by enforcing the law – or are you part of a system that preys on those who don’t have the cash?

Jane (Marling) is a former FBI agent now working for the private security intelligence firm Hiller Brood, hired by corporate clients to protect their executives from harm. Of late, a radical eco-terrorist group calling itself The East has been targeting bigwigs at Big Oil, flooding the home of an oil company CEO with crude oil after his company flooded the gulf with the same stuff.

Sharon (Clarkson), her steely boss, picks Jane to go undercover and infiltrate The East to discover who their targets are and what they plan to do with them. Adopting the name of Sarah, she goes cross-country hanging out with free spirits and counterculture types, engaging in freeganism (the practice of eating discarded food, what some call dumpster diving). She hops trains with a group of them including one suspect she thinks might have ties to the organization but he turns out to be a red herring. However, a different member of that group – Luca (Fernandez) turns out to be the real deal and after Sarah is injured protecting him from railroad bulls he takes her to the safe house of his group to let Doc (Kebbell) take a look at her.

Doc isn’t what he used to be – an adverse reaction to a drug meant to protect him and his sister, both working for a Doctors Without Borders-like organization, from dysentery has left him prone to seizures and extreme muscle tremors. Despite the suspicions of Izzy (Page), one of the other members, she is accepted into the group and captures the eye of Benji (Skarsgard), the de facto leader of a group which claims to have no leaders – call him the first among equals then.

As the group continues to exact revenge on corporate bigwigs whose crimes have gone unpunished by the justice system, Jane/Sarah begins to become conflicted and questions whether she’s batting for the right team.

I really like the moral ambiguity here. This is a film that asks the question does the ends justify the means when the system is broken? That’s a question that’s deceptively difficult to answer. In a system rigged to prevent justice when the super-wealthy are involved, how does one achieve justice particularly when you’re a part of the system? There are no easy answers.

Kudos to Marling and Batmanglij who don’t give the audience any easy outs. Benji and his brood have their own issues and motivations and they aren’t the “pure-at-heart” anarchists that liberal Hollywood sometimes likes to parade as heroes taking on the evil capitalists, nor do all of the CEOs here come off as money-grubbing monsters who are willing to trade human lives for an extra billion they couldn’t possibly spend. Obviously their hearts lie with the anarchists but some of the actions they take are troubling.

Marling, a cool blonde who 60 years ago would have made a perfect Hitchcock female lead, is rapidly becoming one of the independent scene’s best actresses. She’s smart and takes smart roles. Her character undergoes a metamorphosis – from a Christian rock, prayerful and ambitious security agent to a radical leftist spouting freeganism and anarchy. Now, I’m not saying such a change isn’t possible but it does seem to be a rather extreme conversion. Skarsgard, who has become a heartthrob on True Blood, shows that he will make an easy transition to the big screen when that series ends if he chooses to.

On the minus side, there are some plot holes. For example, considering how secretive the group is, Jane/Sarah finds them awfully quickly. One would think if it were that easy to find them, some law enforcement agency would have located them first. Secondly, if the dysentery inoculation caused such serious side effects for such a great percentage of those who took it, a) someone would have noticed and pulled the drug from the marketplace, b) the company that was marketing it would likely never have put it in the marketplace to begin with fearing the class action lawsuits that would surely have followed and c), the Pentagon wouldn’t have signed a contract to give their soldiers a drug that would have debilitated them to the point where they were not only no longer useful as fighting men and women but also would require extensive care for the rest of their lives.

However, these things aside, the writing is pretty dang smart and keeps the tension level high throughout. Certainly one’s political leanings will color your appreciation of the film; liberal sorts will applaud the idea of those perpetrating injustices upon the environment and people getting a taste of their own medicine while conservatives might see this as a self-righteous throwback hippie Che Guevara-fest from the ’60s. Neither viewpoint is wrong, by the way.

REASONS TO GO: Raises some timely questions. Taut and suspenseful.

REASONS TO STAY: Politically self-righteous. A few plot holes.

FAMILY VALUES:  Most of the themes here are pretty adult in nature. There is some violence, some sexuality, quite a bit of foul language and some partial nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Marling and Batmanglij, who co-wrote the screenplay, based it on their experiences in the summer of 2009 practicing freeganism and joining an anarchist collective.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/29/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100; this one got some pretty solid reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Battle in Seattle

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: R.I.P.D.

New Releases for the Week of July 19, 2013


The Conjuring

THE CONJURING

(New Line) Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lily Taylor, Ron Livingston, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Kyla Deaver. Directed by James Wan

When a family is terrorized by unexplainable phenomenon in an isolated Pennsylvania farmhouse, they call in world-renowned husband-wife paranormal investigators Ed and Leslie Warren who made their bones on the Amityville house. What they discover there is something so frightening and violent that they’ve kept that case secret…until now.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Thursday)

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for sequences of disturbing violence and terror)

The East

(Fox Searchlight) Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson. An ambitious young operative for a private security firm goes undercover in an anarchist group that’s targeting major corporations that it finds guilty of covering up criminal activity. The deeper she gets, the more she finds her own moral compass beginning to point East.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, violence, some disturbing images, sexual content and partial nudity)

Evidence

(RLJ/Image) Stephen Moyer, Radha Mitchell, Torrey DeVitto, Caitlin Stasey. Detectives investigating a massacre find a number of recording devices found at the crime scene. The footage reveals survivors of a bus crash fighting for their lives after a mysterious killer picks them off one by one.

See the trailer and stream the full movie on Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: NR

Girl Most Likely

(Roadside Attractions) Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, Natasha Lyonne. When a New York playwright finds her career swirling down the toilet bowl after a crisis in confidence, she fakes a suicide attempt to win back her boyfriend who is dumping her. However, things don’t turn out as planned when she is put in the custody of her estranged mother, a gambling and drug addict, and leaving her Manhattan society circle for the Jersey Shore.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language) 

R.I.P.D.

(Universal) Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker. When a tough-as-nails cop is killed in the line of duty, he discovers that his duty doesn’t end with his mortal life; instead he is brought aboard the R.I.P.D., a next-life law enforcement team that tracks monstrous spirits on Earth who aren’t supposed to be there. Teamed up with a cynical Wild West lawman, the rookie is about to come face-to-face with a threat that could mean Armageddon…or at the very least Hell on Earth.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (Opens Thursday)

Genre: Supernatural Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references)

Ramaiya Vastavaiya

(Tips Industries) Girish Taurani, Shruti K. Haasan, Randhir Kapoor, Vinod Khanna. A young man, Indian of descent but raised in Australia and a young woman from a beautiful village in the north of India. They meet at his cousin’s wedding and become instant friends, which deepens into an intense love. Circumstances force them to return to their homes. The man wants to woo his lady love but her protective family want him to prove himself. Will love triumph over all?

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

RED 2

(Summit) Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins. After re-retiring, the AARP superspies are called back to active duty to thwart a plot to detonate a nuclear device in Russia. The guy who created the device is crazy as a loon however and only one guy can actually get him to fork over the information they need – and I can bet you can guess who that is!

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opens Thursday)

Genre: Action Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material)

Turbo

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph. What could be more ridiculous than a snail that dreams of going fast. I’m not talking about crossing the sidewalk in five hours fast, I’m talking Indy 500 fast. Yeah, right…but this is an animated feature so anything is possible. Heck if snails can talk, why not have them go 200 MPH?

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (Opened Wednesday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild action and thematic elements)

The Way, Way Back

(Fox Searchlight) Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Liam James.  A 14-year-old boy’s summer is being ruined by his mom’s overbearing boyfriend. Retreating into a shell, he finds an unlikely friend in the owner of a water park. As he is coaxed into a less introverted state, he finds his own two feet to stand on – and a sense of who he is becoming in the summer of his life.

See the trailer, a promo, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Coming of Age Dramedy

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material)