Movie review: The East
05:00 AM, Jun 19, 2013
Critics rating: 7
Brit Marling is quietly working (and writing) her way into position as one of the more intriguing people in movies.
Although The East, her latest collaboration with director Zal Batmanglij, with whom she wrote the film, is not the haunting, original work that 2011’s Sound of My Voice was, it is an interesting take on the tense spy thriller. It’s anchored by Marling’s performance as an undercover agent for a private security firm (after recent real-life events, an ever-more-shady enterprise) who infiltrates an eco-terrorist group known as The East.
Sarah (Marling) lives with her boyfriend (Jason Ritter) and, despite seeming to care for him, lies to his face about her assignments. He thinks she’s off to Dubai for work as he drops her off at the airport. But she never gets on the plane. Instead, she begins riding the rails, looking for The East, a seemingly ragtag group that conducts “jams,” operations in which they deliver what they consider appropriate punishments to corporations and their leaders for the environmental damage they cause.
An executive for an oil company that causes a disastrous spill, for instance, finds his home leaking crude through the air ducts. Other targets suffer similarly, but the stakes are being raised.
You have to suspend your disbelief a bit here; certainly Sarah is supposed to be good at her job, but she fits with remarkable speed and ease into a group that is paranoid about outsiders. Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) leads the group, which lives in a dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere. Izzy (Ellen Page) is a lieutenant of sorts, an especially fervent believer in the cause (and especially suspicious of Sarah).
There are cultlike aspects to the group, as Sarah learns during her first meal. The implication is that blind devotion is necessary to carry out the “jams.” Which may be true. But it is without question creepy.
How far will she go to carry out her duties? Where do her loyalties lie? The answers to these questions are not exactly groundbreaking. It’s the textbook moral dilemma these kinds of stories always seem to provide.
What makes this a cut above the norm is Marling. She has a unique intensity that is all the more remarkable for its understatement. In The Sound of My Voice, for instance, she played a cult leader who may or may not have traveled back from the future. Her low-key insistence was unnerving.