A Sunday afternoon watching writer-actor Brit Marling and writer-director Zal Batmanglij’s new release, The East, was an enthralling end of the week, or the beginning of a new one. For me, it was both.
This is an outstanding film on all points of the measurement scale: a brilliant story, well scripted, a taut thriller delivered with talented acting, great set and photography, and totally relevant to our times and our world.
A clip from Mike Scott, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune:
“It sinks its hooks into audiences early and holds on tightly as it moves easily but steadily toward its conclusion. In this case, that stands to be especially true for Louisiana moviegoers still stinging from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The film’s opening shots: oiled birds, accompanied by a calm but frighteningly serious voiceover promising to hold corporations responsible for the environmental crimes they commit.
It’s easy when it’s not your life. Easy when it’s not your home, Ellen Page calmly intones. But when it’s your fault, it shouldn’t be so easy to sleep at night. Especially when we know where you live.
Page plays Izzy, one of a dozen or so members of an elusive eco-terrorist group called The East. Headed by Alexander Skarsgard‘s charismatic character, named Benji, they live off the grid and in the shadows, planning elaborate headline-getting acts of vengeance against corporate callousness, whether it involves Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Agro or Big Anyone Else. Their guiding principal: an eye for an eye — and, for once, campaign contributions won’t save anyone.
That’s where Marling comes in, playing Sarah, a crackerjack employee of a private security film hired by a group of nervous fatcats to put an end to The East’s not-so-random acts of sabotage. Her orders from her boss (played by Patricia Clarkson, capable as always) are to infiltrate the group and gather as much information as possible on its members. Once she does, the feds will take it from there, she’s told.
But a funny thing happens on Sarah’s way to double-crossing this collection of misfits and gutterpunks. Not only does she get to know them — and, what’s more, like them — but she begins to question whether she’s on the wrong side of things. Before, she was a career-minded automaton. After living off the grid with her newfound anti-consumerist brethren — hopping trains, eating out of dumpsters, living in a burned-out shell of a house — her perspective is shifting. The freshly Birkenstocked Sarah becomes a very conflicted woman.
She isn’t at all dissimilar to characters Marling has played before, but it’s a role she does well: Her Sarah is calm and even, but with a quiet intelligence and a suggestion that she is haunted by something. We don’t know what that is, exactly — perhaps she doesn’t even know — but it’s there. This is a woman looking for answers, even if she doesn’t quite know what the questions are.
The big question driving the narrative of “The East” — shot mostly in Shreveport, with a week or so spent in New Orleans — is whether she’ll decide to beat them or join them. But Marling and Batmanglij, who wrote the script together, add a dash of heist-film excitement to the proceedings, as their eco-terrorists set about planning, then executing, three high-stakes “jams” in turn before they plan to go deep underground and letting the heat blow over.” (M. Scott)
And this is where I differ from the writer/reviewer, Mike Scott, who thought the film’s ending fell a bit weak. My opinion: it couldn’t have been more perfect. Don’t miss this amazing work of cinema art for pure entertainment, and thought provoking moral drama, that delivers everything and more that good film has the potential for–right up to the very end.