Beauty and the East|
by Dan Clay, published on June 29, 2013
Brit Marling's made a real name for herself in the last couple of years with sci-fi poser Another Earth and cult drama Sound of My Voice. Now back with that film's writer/director Zal Batmanglij she returns with another infiltration thriller that's likely to point her well and truly in the right direction to acclaim.
Here Marling plays Sarah, an undercover agent for a private intelligence firm run by the shadowy Patricia Clarkson who's assigned to investigate and expose an eco-activist group known as 'The East'. But when she gets close to the groups' leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) her loyalties to her employer and boyfriend are suddenly tested.
Given that both Earth and Voice showcased Marling's knack for delivering both a nifty premise a clever denouement it's fair to say that devotees will expect much from The East; that it doesn't quite match Voice for impact though shouldn't be cause for concern.
For where that managed to shoehorn an engrossing plot into a mere 80 minutes, here - with a bigger budget, starrier cast and longer running time - Marling and director Batmanglij's script is given far more room to breathe, taking in thought-provoking concepts (when does activism become terrorism?) but without really providing the answer.
And with such a large group to cover, only Skarsgård, Toby Kebbell and Ellen Page's back stories gets enough attention, meaning Marling's conscience and co-habiting arrangements never really get the coverage her character's central status deserves.
However what The East does well is engage the brain - something Christopher Nolan keeps in mind when creating cinema for the multiplex - whether that's through tense moments as the group carry out their acts or 'jams' or through Sarah's changing perspective as the film progresses. Throwing in a clever twist once more certainly helps, although perhaps spelt out a little too painstakingly to have the same impact as Sound of My Voice's genuine jaw dropper. Whatever direction Marling takes next, The East shows her film compass is well and truly pointing in the right direction.
With shades of Bourne and Brasco, The East shows Brit and Batmanglij know where they're headed and just how to get there.
Rating: 3 out of 5