May 31, 2013
Fox Searchlight Pictures
1 hour 56 minutes
Brit Marling really knows how to stay loyal to her friends and make great films with them in the process. In 2011, Marling teamed with Mike Cahill to make 'Another Earth,' which won the Alfred P. Sloan prize at Sundance that year. The other film she released at Sundance that year, entitled 'Sound of My Voice,' was released over a year later and was more thrown into theaters rather than being given the marketing and audience it deserved. A year after that, Marling has teamed up with the director/co-writer of 'Sound of My Voice,' named Zal Batmanglij, to co-write and star in a new film entitled 'The East.' From the trailer, which thankfully doesn't show anything other than a montage of footage and the opening of the film's voiceover from Ellen Page's character Izzy, one would expect a full on corporate thriller straight through. That is not the case here. Instead, the result is something much better than the typical Hollywood thriller.
Sarah Ross is an undercover operative for a private intelligence firm called Hiller Brood. She has a seemingly nice life, with a good guy in her life, a nice job, and stuff like that. As part of her job, Sarah is willing to do anything to protect the clients of Hiller Brood, no matter how extreme the case is. Her boss, Sharon, assigns her to go undercover and infiltrate a eco-terrorist organization who call themselves "The East." At first, she has no idea what she's gotten herself into. As time goes on though, she integrates with the group and befriends the groups leader Benji. Living with The East though stsrts to change Sarah, making it seem that maybe Hiller Brood is the real terrorist organization and The East, whose actions or "jams" against these companies might be a little extreme, might actually be onto something in trying to make the world a better place.
Seriously, Brit Marling is one of the most talented people working in Hollywood today. Her performance in this film is riveting and engaging at the same time. I said in my review for 'Another Earth' that Marling gave a performance similar to Jennifer Lawrence in her Academy Award nominated performance in 'Winter's Bone.' In this film, she is comparable to Jessica Chastain in 'Zero Dark Thirty' in a way, showing a more determined and fierce side of her that hasn't been shown before. Her performance in this movie is one of the best performances of 2013 so far, without a doubt. Not only can she act, however, but she can also write engaging and sometimes disturbing original stories.
Marling and director Zal Batmanglij (pronounced baat-man-gleege) co-wrote this film together and based it on a summer they spent together where they lived for free in Los Angeles. eating food out of dumpsters (there's a reason for it explained in the film, so don't get grossed out) and taking the train for no cost at all. During the Q&A after my screening of the film, Batmanglij said that just about everything in this film was based on true things that actually happened involving big corporate companies. This includes water poisoning, awful side effects in drugs, and other things in that nature. I applaud Marling and Batmanglij for making the latest wake up call to the environment and everyone living inside it. Speaking of Batmanglij, this was quite a different directorial effort compared to his last film, in a good way though.
The film 'Sound of My Voice' was such a small movie, not just in its release, but also the atmosphere of it. At the same time though, the small environment in a way helped increase the tension between characters and help you step into this cult much easier. While this film for the most part is a small film, there are sequences that feel like a big Hollywood action film without all of the special effects and explosions. Batmanglij's direction is superb in the film, mainly because he knows when to make the film feel like a fun Hollywood thriller and when to give the film some time to let it show off its characters. This guy is one of the pioneers of a new generation of filmmaking, and may possibly get an Oscar nomination for a movie of his someday. Frankly I would love to see this get some awards recognition, but there are a lot of movies out there this year so this may be kicked into the sidelines with other potential nominees. 'The East' is only his second film, yet the potential to awards success is clearly in the pudding.
The rest of the cast was not as great as Marling, but still electrifying as hell. Alexander Skarsgård played the most complex and most interesting character of the supporting cast, named Benji. Benji is the leader of The East and has motives to do these jams that are truly shocking and awesome at the same time. Skarsgård's character is so fascinating to watch mainly because he's such a believable and intriguing character, so much so that you want to root for him at the same time you want to be against him. Equally great is Ellen Page as Izzy, Benji's second in command, so to speak. Page gives an engaging and great performance that makes audiences remember why she was nominated for an Oscar for 'Juno.' Patricia Clarkson also delivered on a solid antagonistic-esque role whose role in Sarah's undercover life gets even more interesting as the film progresses. Another person who should be lauded for their work in the film is Shiloh Fernandez, who plays Luca, another member of the eco-terrorist group. Fernandez in this film is quite charming, as well as really cool. Overall the entire supporting cast is fantastic, with no weak performances whatsoever.
'The East' is the type of movie that with further thinking, you may like it more. That's what happened to me personally. I saw this movie back in April, and after the film my father and I had a pretty deep conversation about what we had both seen. This is a film that will spark up many conversations, and for good reason too. There are things I picked up on days after seeing the film. This is THE thinker's movie of 2013. Not only is this film thrilling and engaging, but it's also thought provoking and stellar. Big props go out to Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij for writing, starring, and directing in this movie. There are scenes that are strange but intriguing, as well as scenes that may have you scratching your head. 'The East' is one of those movies that requires multiple viewings in order to fully process it. I, for one, can't wait to go see this film again.
WeLiveFilm founder Scott Menzel and myself with the star/co-writer of 'The East,' Brit Marling at a special early screening of the movie in Philadelphia, PA!