Film Review: The East

Johan faces a difficult choice

When it comes to empires, none of the European countries come out of history well. Take The Netherlands, for example. One of the great merchant seafaring nations, they established trade links in many profitable ports around the world, largely thanks to the Dutch East India company. The territory which is now Indonesia was an unusual example of colonisation which wasn’t purely for economic gain. After losing the archipelago to the Japanese during World War II, they eventually took it back. This is where The East begins.

Eager to make reparations and escape from the shadow of his Nazi-collaborating father, Johan de Vries (Martijn Lakemeier) signs up to volunteer in the East Indies. Keeping his past secret, he aims to make a new life for himself. As they try to quell the Indonesian nationalist movement in an unforgiving environment, he becomes increasingly frustrated by their lack of process. That’s when he falls under the influence of Captain Raymond Westerling (Marwan Kenzari), who leads a counterinsurgency using famously direct methods.

Based on true events, The East is a historical war drama that doesn’t try and whitewash past atrocities of sugar-coat an unpleasant period in Dutch colonial history. Jim Taihuttu’s film doesn’t spare on the unpleasant racism of colonialism or the horrors of war. Neither does it omit the contradictions. In this sense, it’s quite refreshing. There’s absolutely no doubt who the bad guys are in The East. It’s a powerful story told with an eye for the epic.

The East is available on digital download from Blue Finch Releasing on 4 October.  

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