The East is a movie that challenges our ideals and preconceived notions about how we live our lives and the kind of excesses that occur on a daily basis when we turn a blind eye to in order to maintain blissful ignorance.
Sarah Moss (Brit Marling) is an operative for a private intelligence firm that is hired with the job of infiltrating an anarchist collective known as “The East”. Her undercover mission isn’t an easy one as she is faced with circumstances that she previously couldn’t have imagined. Despite some initial resistance from the likes of the headstrong Izzy (Ellen Page), she’s ultimately accepted into the collective. Things however get a little complicated as she slowly becomes involved with the collective’s leader (Alexander Skarsgard), and the responsibilities of her job begin to get in the way with this new life that she has become increasingly attached to.
The writing team of Marling and director Zal Batmanglij come together for their follow up to Sound of My Voice, and the results are a very solid morality tale and message film wrapped up in the trappings of a standard Hollywood thriller. Shooting on location in Shreveport, Louisiana, Batmanglij crafts a tense world of emotional tension with practical and palpable danger at every turn. The genuine power of the narrative is truly in how practical it all actually is, avoiding any overtly preachy moments for the most part. It instead it hits us with the power of the very understated logic that these anarchists are trying to spread. Even if you can’t get yourself into the eco political issues that are brought to the forefront in The East, it still works as a tense and dramatic character piece that illustrates the risks of deep cover assignments like this one. Batmanglij crafts a slick and moody looking film that is only accentuated by a great leading turn from a star in the making.
Marling’s Moss is an ambitious, yet emotionally needy person being sent into a situation that she isn’t sure she’s capable of handling. Where her character in Sound of my Voice was the manipulator, here she is the manipulated, and in many ways it’s self inflicted here. She illustrates the real terrors of a deep cover assignment while on a personal level confronting so many of her perceived fears about herself and needing to belong by embracing this new lifestyle. Marling is easily a future Oscar winner and we see her navigate such an emotional maelstrom that only foreshadows how her best work is probably yet to come. Skarsgard manages a more emotive yet sexy version of his Eric Northman character from True Blood, and Page delivers a cute yet snarly performance as Izzy that would make Lili Taylor proud. Shiloh Fernandez, Jason Ritter, Patricia Clarkson and Jamey Sheridan all round out the ensemble cast, but it’s Marling who shines the brightest with a performance that’s equally understated and emotionally gripping.
The East is the kind of film that says a lot more with a whisper then it does with a scream, and while people may not be able to look past what the film’s ultimate message, in it’s quieter moments all of the emotional punches hit their marks.