Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The East (SIFF 2013) - Movie Review

Rising Hollywood star Brit Marling not only plays the lead role in The East, but she also co-wrote and helped produce the movie that has so far received nothing but high praise. Director Zal Batmanglij, who also worked with Marling in the 2011 thriller Sound of My Voice, has put together a feature film that feels just as provocative and edgy as the fictional organization it portrays.

Sarah (Marling) is an operative for an elite private intelligence company whose latest assignment has her going deep undercover in an attempt to infiltrate an organization called The East whose primary goal has been to use guerilla style tactics to expose the corporate greed and environmental abuse that is helping major companies maintain their power while putting average citizens at risk. These televised and youtube'd underground tactics have caught the attention of companies that do not want to become The East's next target.

Led by Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) and Izzy (Ellen Page), this surprisingly small band of idealistic crusaders comes with a sense of purpose and brotherhood that is only trumped by their laser focused willingness to achieve their goal of giving "The Man" a dose of its own medicine. As Sarah works her way into the organization, she begins to realize how the members of this so called terrorist group really are more than just thrill seeking daredevils who might be out looking for their infamous fifteen minutes. What makes her job of bringing the whole thing down even harder is how she begins to agree more and more with what they are trying to accomplish.

Aside from this being a really solid eco-political thriller, it is pretty exciting to see the type of work that Brit Marling has been able to put out there. From the under appreciated After Earth to the groundbreaking work her and Batmanglij achieved with Sound of My Voice, she is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Apparently she will not be satisfied with making good cinema for Hollywood, but is also willing to send some very poignant messages out to the masses while being able to entertain them at the same time.

What was most impressive for me when it comes to the acting was Marling's portrayal of the conflicting emotions Sarah finds herself struggling with as she goes deeper down the rabbit hole and nearly gets altogether lost in a world she clearly wasn't prepared for. Aside from her performance, I really liked about this movie was how, even with a roster of talent that includes Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgård, and Patricia Clarkson, it still retains an independent spirit that is essential for the movie to work in the first place.

This is not meant to be a big, glossy blockbuster and it shows and I mean that as a compliment. It actually comes off more like a documentary without blatantly trying to be like one which usually turns out feeling cheap and contrived. I really felt like the audience was witnessing the story unfold in a very organic fashion rather than being over scripted and micro processed for maximum effect.

In the grand scheme of things The East is a very strong effort by some really talented people who should be receiving much more attention than they are. Based on what she has shown with this movie, Brit Marling will no doubt have a great career for many years to come and hopefully she can keep giving us films like this one that not only entertain, but will make us think about what is really going on in the world around us.

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