Sundance 2013: “The East” – Review by MovieManMenzel
Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij helm the perfect follow-up to The Sound of My Voice.
The East is the story of an anarchy group who attack big corporations that don’t take responsibilities for their actions. Known as a terrorist threat to several major conglomerates, the East is under federal investigation and must be stopped. This is where Sarah (Brit Marling) enters the film. Sarah works for an elite private intelligence firm that is known for taking down organizations like the East. She is sent to investigate this small group of individuals with the ultimate goal of stopping their future planned attacks. All seems to be going according to plan until Sarah begins to see exactly what this group is fighting against. This begins a personal struggle within Sarah to debate who is right and who is wrong.
With so much talk about big corporations misleading the general public, The East is one of those films that feels as if its being released at the perfect time. Lately, there has been so much talk about these big corporations such as big pharmaceuticals taking responsibility for their actions and the effects their products have caused. This film tackles this issue and uses real world examples to prove their point.
The film opens on an oil spoil and the harm that it has done to the environment. It kind of plays off the idea of the BP oil spill that happened several years ago. The film showcases several birds and animals covered in oil as well as several dead animals and polluted waters. The opening is masked with voice over by Izzy (Ellen Page) who describes the duty of the East and how they will stop at nothing to right the wrongs that these companies must take some sort of responsibility towards. The film’s opening voice-over is actually featured in the trailer for the film, which I found to be a clever way to advertise exactly what the film is about.
Brit Marling, who co-wrote and stars as Sarah in the film is simply powerful. As Sarah, she has the confliction of her job, her personal life, and also trying to take in and comprehend all this new information that the East is showing her. Marling as Sarah showcases the struggle of right vs. wrong but also the conflict of doing what is right vs doing what you have to do for your job. It is Sarah who tries to keep the peace and gives rational thought to this group of people who seem so set in their ways. There is a scene within the film where Sarah argues if you harm these people, you are only doing what they are doing to others. Its a good argument and one that truly makes for a powerful scene in the film.
Alongside Marling, you have a stellar supporting cast including Alexander Skarsgård, Julia Ormond, Shiloh Fernandez, Ellen Page, and a handful of others. Alexander plays Benji, the groups leader and his performance is somewhat unique as he spends most of the film showcasing very little emotion. It is, however, the point of his character to be the leader and therefore not hold that much of sympathy towards what takes place while the group is on their mission. Ellen Page is the other real standout of the above mentioned cast members. Just like most of her previous roles, Page showcases a really strong character with a lot of conviction. It turns out later in the film that we learn the reason for her joining this group is because her father works for a company that dumps toxic waste into the water in Ambler, PA. This waste has caused the death of several people including children, however, the company will not admit to any wrong doing.
The direction by Zal Batmanglij really captures the emotion and tone of the film. There are several well directed scenes that stand out within the film itself. One particular scene that can’t escape my mind is a party scene that takes place in a tent outside the home of a major player in a pharmaceutical company. It is such an intense scene because of the way that Batmanglij switches cameras and uses all the actors in the scene to build the suspense. It must also be said that the direction really helps move the story along with the pacing of the film feeling perfectly timed to the films run-time. Batmanglij takes us on a journey that not only makes a great film but ultimately gives us an honest look into things that are actually happening in the world around us whether or not we want to believe it.
The film’s conclusion is one that truly leaves room for discussion but also really makes the film come full circle. I don’t want to spoil anything but what happens feels as if it could naturally happen in life. The film is paced in a manner that you are always interested in whats going on as well as excited to learn what is going to happen next.
At the end of the day, I must admit that The East was one of my favorite films that I saw at Sundance 2013. I loved the acting, the story, the pacing, and just the overall message and subject matter that the film addressed. While this may not be a film for everyone, it is definitely a film that addresses some really important things about our society . I think many will appreciate this film for tackling those issues but at the same time enjoy the fact that it manages to be a solid thriller that is realistic and well written. My hat is off to both Marling and Batmanglij for creating once again a near perfect film that is both important yet entertaining.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for The East is a 9 out of 10.