Saturday, September 14, 2013

"The East" Presents A Provocative Thriller about Eco-Terrorism and Freeganism

The East

It might sound silly that I have not heard anything about Brit Marling. It turns out that this actress is also a script writer and a producer. “The East” is one of the films that she takes part not only as an actress but also as a screenwriter (together with director Zal Batmanglij) and a producer. Marling and Batmanglij have spent some months experiencing freeganism and joining anarchist groups before writing the script of this provocative thriller. It might become a proof of how original “The East” is, regardless of whether it is as amusing as it is original or not.

“The East” is actually a name of group—an eco-terrorist group, they said. What The East does is practicing anarchism against public figures or major corporations whose businesses or activities damage the environment. The East has taken public’s attention, and Jane (Brit Marling)—who works as a secret agent of a private intelligence firm led by Sharon (Patricia Clarkson)—is tasked to gather information about the group using a fake identity as Sarah Moss. But soon after she successfully approaches some of the members of The East, including Doc (Toby Kebell), Luca (Shiloh Fernandez), Izzy (Ellen Page), and the group leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), she dramatically changes her priorities.

The East
The East is an anarchist group that executes eco-terrorism to major corporations whose activities potions the environment.

Provocative is the best term to describe “The East”. Beside of the eco-terrorism theme, all the members of The East also practice freeganism, which forces them to eat foods that have been discarded. Of course, these two things are new for me, but it is lucky that “The East” describes them quite comprehensively. Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling use them as a foundation to develop this political thriller into an intriguing story full with tension and suspense. It’s like watching a non-action version of “Mission Impossible” or “Bourne Trilogy”. Some said that it borrows some similarities of Batmanglij’s previous works—“Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice”—but since I haven’t watched them, I think it also contains some similarities from “Martha Marcy May Marlene” or “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo”.

To be categorized as corporate or political thriller, I think “The East” is quite easy to understand. The pace is moderate, no complicated dialogue, and viewers can follow the plot without having to pause-and-resume the DVD player just to digest the story (like I used to do while watching some other thrillers). No obvious action scenes or even blood either, because “The East”—with the theme it raises—has become too controversial to add such things in the story. Can you imagine how you can eat with both of your hands strapped on your clothes? You will be very surprised to know the answer. With its eco-terrorism theme, “The East” raises concern to the nature and the way businessmen exploit it for their own benefit, and in some parts, it also raises a moral dilemma within ourselves. 

The East
Jane a.k.a Sarah (Brit Marling) infiltrates into the group to provide information for her boss.

The emotional conflict is also present, but sometimes I feel like it distracts the main story. Like the conflict between Jane and her spouse, Tim (Jason Ritter), which is not developed well but always be included in every joint of the story. And the emotional relationship among Jane and the other members, especially Izzy, is so half-hearted. It might contribute a reason to why Jane dramatically changes her priorities the longer she joins the group, but as an individual, I think the emotional conflict among each of the members and Jane is not necessary. Chemistry is successfully built among the members of the group, but interpersonal connection between some main characters are not as successful. This might also be the reason of why I fail to appreciate the ending (or the twist, some said) because it is not built as solid as the thriller parts of the story.

Lucky that the screenplay written by duet Batmanglij and Marling crafts some powerful characterizations. Jane a.k.a Sarah is a tough woman with intelligence in her head, and Brit Marling is so total playing her character. I think without Marling playing Jane/Sarah, “The East” will not be as interesting. Alexander Skarsgård has the look of a leader, but every time he builds emotional interaction to either the members or Jane, he fails. Ellen Page is a neutral pick, I guess, but she did better job than Skarsgård. The last, Patricia Clarkson surprises me for her solid performance as a private intelligence firm leader with the way she talks. She is a “polished” version of Judi Dench's character, M, in 007 franchise, I guess.

The East
Patricia Clarkson delivers a convincing performance as a private intelligence firm.

So, what we are having here is a provocative, genuine, and suspenseful film. Take aside the emotional parts between some characters and you will be pleased by “The East”. An easy version of political thriller that goes without action or blood but with tension and dilemma. Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling have presented an amusing thriller, and we are looking forward to more films from them, for sure. 



The East3.5 out of 5 stars

 ▲  Provocative and genuine, convincing performances by Brit Marling and Patricia Clarkson
 ▼  Unnecessary and unsuccessful emotional conflict between some characters

THE EAST | COUNTRY USA YEAR 2013 RATING Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some disturbing images, sexual content and partial nudity RUNTIME 116 min GENRE Thriller CAST Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, Shiloh Fernandez WRITER Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling DIRECTOR Zal Batmanglij MORE INFO

7 comments:

  1. Good review. I thought it started off perfectly balancing all sorts of ideas and political agendas that made me feel like this was going to be a very complicated thriller, but one that was also worth the watch. However, once the last 15 minutes hit, it all of a sudden dropped those ideas and got as conventional as can be. Really pissed me off, especially considering how well it was doing up until then.

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    1. That is so true. I also feel the same. The ending has cancelled all the power it has built from the beginning. I think it might because of the unsuccessful interpersonal connection between some characters like Jane with Benji or Jane with Izzy.

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  2. I'm kinda intrigued by this film, but haven't had the time to watch it yet. I've watched Another Earth and Sound of my Voice, both really interesting stuff, though not really knockouts (but I kinda like Another Earth). Brit Marling and Batmanglij could be the next indie darlings if they keep up. Great review, Bar :)

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    1. It's not flawless, but I really enjoy like 3/4 of the film. You should watch it too :) Thank you!

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  3. I missed this one at MSPIFF, which is where I saw Disconnect. I like Brit Marling in a couple of movies so I might check this out on that account.

    – ruth

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    1. I watched "Arbitrage" yesterday and Brit Marling was there too. Two consecutive movies with Marling, LOL!

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