The Reel Review
A Dutch soldier tasked with helping to squelch Indonesia’s growing post-WWII independence movement must wrestle with his conscience when he finds himself working for an increasingly sadistic commander of an elite military unit, in this period war thriller.
The East is a great looking film – its solid production, period visuals and gamelan-laden score captures Indonesia so well that you can almost feel the sweltering summer heat. Martijn Lakemeier (Hollands hoop) stars as the protagonist Johan, a kind-hearted individual who soon discovers his fellow soldiers are less interested in protecting local villagers and more interested in chasing after prostitutes. Marwan Kenzari (Black Adam, The Old Guard) is the evil commander, Raymond “The Turk” Westerling – a controversial real-life figure from the colonial era.
Sadly, the screenplay from co-writer/director Jim Taihuttu feels more like an aimless, one-dimensional knockoff of the iconic Apocalypse Now – its latter half devolving into some pretty gnarly torture porn. Jarring time jumps between Johan’s time in Indonesia and his post war life in the Netherlands further distracts from this visually compelling but painfully dry war saga.
• The nearly three months of production of The East on the Indonesian island of Java was plagued by a multitude of problems – torrential monsoon rains which flooded sets, film locations teeming with crocodiles, and outbreaks of typhus, food poisoning and sun strokes among the cast and crew.
• The East co-writer/director Jim Taihuttu (Rabat) was inspired to create the film as an ode to his great grandfather who died while serving as an army sergeant in Indonesia. Taihuttu also is a disc jockey, part of the hip hop/dance duo Yellow Claw.
• Raymond Westerling, nicknamed The Turk, was an actual Greek-Dutch military commander who carried out controversial summary executions of rebels before becoming an opera singer after returning to the Netherlands. He died of a heart attack in 1987, at the age of 68.
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