by Jo, published on June 28, 2013|
Spy on us and we'll spy on you, so say the The East, the eponymous Eco Terrorism group in this thriller from writer/director Zal Batmanglij and writer/actor Brit Marling.
This was one of my accidental screenings at Edinburgh Film Festival as I had actually meant to see The Deep. On at the same time and and starring some Nordic men who could be mistaken for Alexander Skarsgard, although perhaps not as hot. Anyway, I wasn't disappointed by this intelligent, provocative thriller although I wasnt entirely convinced either.
Sarah (Brit Marling) is an ambitious young high flyer at a private intelligence firm. Keen to get to the top under the steely eye of ruthless boss Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) Sarah dives headfirst into an assignment to infiltrate serious eco terrorists, The East who are pulling off stunts such as filling polluters houses with oil and treating Big Pharma bosses to a taste of their own medicine. Literally. Like Kaiser Soyse, The East are ghosts, they are nowhere, and Sarah seems to be nowhere near getting near them. Suddenly though there is a breakthrough and Sarah quickly find herself so deep into the world of The East that her own beliefs begin to be questioned.
Any remotely left wing person will side with The East and what they stand for to a point. Most people don't have the eye-for-an-eye approach that sets extreme groups apart and what sets Sarah apart. One can't help but wish that Batmanglij had dug a bit deeper and gone into the group characters as a whole a bit more. Our first encounters with The East are strong - a particularly effective dinner party with a difference featuring strait jackets and lessons to be learnt, a game of spin the bottle with a difference. The group and the setting is believable for an outlaw cult. Sarah's encounter with Eve, the deaf girl who disappears off into the woods which had me sitting on the end of my seat but other members of the group aren't fully developed. This groundwork is not continued and ultimately left me feeling disenfranchised from the story. Cult leader Benji is unfortunately a cliché from start to finish which I found disappointing and left me wanting and Sarah's involvement with him felt inevitable and underdeveloped. Sarah's emotional wrangling also was not played out enough and the script is a little soft, the ending far too pat and saccharine for such a globally worrying subject.
Batmanglij has assembled a great cast for the movie. Alexander Skarsgard makes a enigmatic and interesting cult leader, Ellen Page is, as usual, a little firecracker as troubled rich kid Izzy, Shiloh Fernanadez looks fantastic as Velvet Goldmine-esque Luca and Toby Kebbell is simply outstanding as the most interesting of the gang, Doc. Julia Ormond also has a small memorable cameo as a Big Pharma head and Patricia Clarkson gives it some gravitas as steely head honcho Sharon. As Brit Marling wrote The East, it stands to reason that she would give herself the main part but unfortunately I did not really feel this was the right decision. Her passive, still method of acting doesn't fill what is needed to give Sarah some life. It is only in the last act we see some gumption from her and things start to feel exciting. It is the lack of empathy or engagement with Sarah which for me let the film down. Personally I would have cast Ellen Page as Sarah and Marling as Izzy but hey, this isn't my movie.
Although I didn't entirely fall for The East, it will be interesting to see further collaborations from Batmanglij and Marling. Although the film isn't quite as effective in it's message as say, The Constant Gardener, it certainly raises a lot of questions that should be thought about long after the movie has ended and will pitch at a younger audience who will maybe become more politicised. If it brings these issues to further to the forefront than that's no bad thing.