The East Director: Zal Batmanglij Writer(s): Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling Cast: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson Fox Searchlight Pictures Rated R | 116 minutes Release Date: June 21, 2013
Directed by Zal Batmanglij, The East stars Brit Marling as Sarah Ross, a former FBI agent who becomes an undercover operative for the private intelligence firm Hiller/Brood. Sarah’s latest assignment: infiltrate The East, an anarchist collective that targets multinational corporations and their corrupt CEOs.
Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page co-star as Benji and Lizzy, leaders of The East who use “jams” to expose pharmaceutical companies and energy conglomerates that destroy the planet. These agents of chaos aren’t just environmental activists, but victims of the system. Take for instance the East’s doctor, played by Toby Kebbell, who used a “miracle” antibiotic while on an aid mission to Africa. The drug ravaged his nervous system; he has to use superglue to treat wounds because his hands are too shaky to make stitches.
Sarah’s foray into eco-terrorism begins when she joins Benji, Lizzy, and Doc in their latest jam, infiltrating a pharmaceutical company’s lavish party. Disguised as waiters, the East poisons the champagne supply with the company’s own medicine, an experimental drug with devastating side effects.
As Sarah grows closer to the charismatic, convincing Benji, she begins to question the moral underpinnings of her undercover assignment, like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Scorsese’s The Departed, a snitch in deep cover for too long, gaining the trust and respect of those she plans to rat on.
Brit Marling is easily one of Hollywood’s most intriguing up and coming stars. Her 2011 breakout film Another Earth, which she co-wrote with director Mike Cahill, centered on a guilt-ridden young woman who dreams of traveling to a recently discovered mirror image of our planet and starting over. In Sound of My Voice, she played a basement-dwelling cult leader who may be a time traveler from the future.
With The East, the actress-writer-producer reunites with Batmanglij, her director and co-writer on Sound of My Voice, which is inspired by the concept of Buy Nothing Day, an international day of protest against consumerism. In preparation for the film, Marling and Batmanglij spent two months with advocates of freeganism, which is the practice of “eating discarded food in their pursuit of a moneyless existence.”
The result is a film that appears eerily authentic, with characters who don’t feel contrived or cliché. The film boasts three strong female turns in Marling, Page, and Patricia Clarkson, who plays Sarah’s intimidating superior at Hiller/Brood. True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgård delivers his second solid performance of the year after a surprising turn in What Maisie Knew. His character starts out as a Charles Manson-esque figurehead, complete with a mane of unkempt hair and scraggly beard, but slowly Skarsgård unveils a master manipulator who believes in the cause with every fiber of his being.
The East is a natural progression from many of the ideas presented in Sound of My Voice and feels like the springboard that will launch Marling and Batmanglij into the mainstream. A tense, thoughtful, and compelling film, The East is one of the summer’s few indie, female-centric offerings that’s heavy on ideas and light on computer-generated spectacle.