Synopsis: An operative for an elite private intelligence firm finds her priorities changing dramatically after she is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations.
Stars: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Running Length: 116 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: It might be easy to dismiss The East as another indie granola thriller with an activism agenda but it’s thanks to a nuanced script co-written by star Brit Marling (Arbitage, Sound of My Voice) and director Zal Batmanglij and some seriously layered performances that should put your movie compass due north toward this nicely constructed film.
Indie-darling Marling has had a boon of opportunity in the last few years turning up in several well reviewed flicks that may not have made much of a dent at the box office but upped her street cred in Hollywood causing many to take notice. Resisting the urge to snap up roles in any number of summer blockbusters, Marling instead took a more creative route by rounding up her frequent collaborator Batmanglij and gathering a crackerjack cast for her urban potboiler.
As Sarah, an agent recruited by a mysterious intelligence firm to find a way to get inside a grassroots anarchist group targeting specific big money companies, Marling convincingly gets under the skin of her character. Without laying it all out for us she shows us the complexities of the work, what it takes to burrow in and gain trust, and the toll that double life takes on the psyche. Starting off wanting the opportunity to succeed more than having much conviction for the job, Sarah eventually winds up in the wooded compound of the members of The East including Skarsgård (Disconnect) as charismatic leader Benji and Ellen Page (Juno) as cautious rebel Izzy.
It may not seem like it on a first viewing but Marling and Batmanglij have gone to great lengths to get all their ducks lined up in a row. As the lines get blurred between what side is actually doing the most damage, Sarah sees a new challenge in adapting to the way of life the members of the group chose to live…eventually losing herself in the world she’s created.
The whole set-up isn’t anything truly original because we’ve seen these types of undercover movies dozens of times. What makes The East so different is the way it chooses to present the material in scenes that feel fresh and don’t spell out what the motivations are of anyone involved. Everyone seems to be hiding something and as soon as one secret is revealed a host of new questions emerge. The movie has a nice rhythm, allowing the characters and the tension to grow as the story progresses – not everything works out like you think it will and several times I was pleasantly surprised as a new wrinkle was introduced.
If anything, the movie is recommended on the strength of one performance. Patricia Clarkson. The head of the security firm that assigns Sarah, Clarkson’s character is colored with one of the most crisply sinister edges in quite some time and that’s not something that is thanks only to the script. I’ve been a fan of Clarkson for some time but her purring ice queen is truly something to behold.
Though The East may not pop to the top of your list during this busy summer movie season, do try and seek it out when it’s available for viewing at home in the fall. There’s a real depth to the message and a skill in the delivery that’s rare to find nowadays.