The East, written by its star, Brit Marling and its director, Zal Batmanglij is the second -or third- collaboration between the two. The last time, was with Sound of My Voice, a very low-budget psychological thriller about a cult. There was also a film called Another Earth, where Marling co-wrote and starred for director Mike Cahill and Batmanji was given a special thanks credit. This time, the two take on the world of eco-terrorism with more stars and a bigger budget. I suppose what I am getting at, is the impressive body of work Marling is building.
Here's an interview with Marling during the release of Another Earth.
Marling plays a spy, working for a private company that specializes in the security and information to protect major corporations. Her boss (Patricia Clarkson) gives her the assignment of infiltrating an
anarchist group known as The East who are suspected as a dangerous threat to the lives of clients. She finds the group and gains their trust quite effectively. Their leader, known as Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) and members (including characters played by Ellen Page and Toby Kebbell), whose motivations to terrorize corporate CEOs are revealed to be more personal than one might presume, have very risky plans ahead. Marling’s character begins to grow sympathy for their causes.
Marling and Batmanglij have taken on daring subject matter, but I am a little disappointed at how simple-minded The East turns out to be. While I anticipated these young filmmakers to continue with moral complexity, the fictional group in this film is made up of sympathetic and intelligent characters who know exactly who to go after in cases of undeniable crimes against humanity caused by people too wealthy to be dealt justice.
After seeing 2011’s Oscar nominated documentary, If a Tree Falls, I saw the actions of The Earth Liberation Front ranging between honorably heroic to petty pointless destruction. The documentary featured rebels who seemed disciplined as well as obnoxious ignorant thrill-seekers. The East is a group eco-terrorists only dream to be.
I suppose my criticism with The East is that it’s taking on a subject that is very complex and simplifying it on a moral level so that it can function in a genre film. That’s not such a bad thing, as it helps the movie stay entertaining, but when it fails to embrace that kind of melodrama when this story reaches its compromising conclusion, it made me wish the story was more faithful to such a bold subject. The East is enjoyable but mostly forgettable.