Directed by: Zal Batmanglij
Written by: Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling
Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Jason Ritter, Patricia Clarkson and Julia Ormond
Brit Marling is one of the most interesting actresses working today, and she is responsible for writing some of the more evocative films of late. In 2011, she co-wrote Sound of My Voice, an eerie story about a charismatic cult figure that may or may not be from the future. Next up she penned Another Earth, a moody drama about a woman living with the consequences of a horrible accident from her past. Sounds fairly innocuous, but the kicker is that as the film unfolds, a duplicate planet earth is discovered. The implications of that discovery, along with the protagonist’s personal struggle made for a fascinating film.
Marling continues her winning streak with The East, a politically charged thriller that reteams Marling with co-writer and director Zal Batmanglij. Marling plays Sarah, an operative working for a private intelligence firm that specializes in protecting corporate clients from domestic terrorist attacks. Sarah is given the task of infiltrating an anarchist group called The East. The members of the group target companies that have committed various offenses ranging from illegally dumping chemicals to marketing pharmaceuticals with deleterious side effects. The one thing that all their “targets” have in common is that they have made millions by acting unscrupulously.
The group plans aggressive attacks on these targets, justifying collateral damage as part of the deal. Their goal is to expose the corporate criminals at any cost, which makes The East a very dangerous association. Sarah goes incognito, trading her high heels and power suits for Birkenstocks and tattered clothing. As she ingratiates herself into their inner circle, it becomes apparent that the members are indoctrinated into the movement with cult-like precision. These scenes take place at a farmstead where the group is squatting, and they are as creepy as any horror movie, especially when straightjackets make an appearance.
The caveat for Sarah is that she actually finds herself empathizing with the cause, despite the group’s radical actions. Further complicating her mission is the leader (Alexander Skarsgård) who she ultimately falls for. As an audience member, you’ll likely find yourself feeling the same way, which makes for a compelling story. On some primal level, you’ll want the East to extract revenge against the corporate fat cats. This keeps you emotionally vested in the outcome, and provides for constant tension. It’s hard to know who to root for, but there’s no way things are going to end well for anyone.
Marling is wonderful. The scenes when she returns to her boyfriend and civilization are mesmerizing, because it’s clear she has no tools for acclimating back to her old life. The East has a great supporting cast including Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, Julia Ormond and Jason Ritter.
What I found especially disturbing about The East is its believability. I have no doubt we will see these types of attacks in the very near future. The East ultimately asks the question we’ll all have to answer when that time comes: where will your loyalties lie? – Shannon