Brit Marling is really making a lot of herself and becoming one of those names to get excited over. Between her work (in front and behind the camera) in films like ‘Another Earth’ and ‘The Sound of My Voice’, she is clearly one of those ‘ones to watch’ of this decade. She’s certainly more interesting than some of the talentless ‘bodies’ you see floating around magazine covers. With her latest entry, Marling once again proves that she has the smarts to not only craft an original piece of work but also the talent to carry it on her shoulders.
‘The East’ is possibly her most straightforward work so far, and so for that it may be deemed her least impressive and yet it is probably her most polished to date. Where ‘The Sound of My Voice’ felt somewhat avant-garde in tone, and ‘Another Earth’ felt entirely indie, there is something very grounded about ‘The East’. It feels very surefooted, which is a good thing, and even though the ending left me a tad underwhelmed (and yet, it was effective), there is a lasting presence here that is undeniable.
‘The East’ tells the story of a young woman who is working for a private intelligence firm. Her firm is hired to infiltrate a group of terrorists targeting companies who are putting the health of their fellow man at risk. Under the alias of Sarah Moss, this woman finds herself being sucked into the world of The East, becoming part of their plans and their ‘jams’ and eventually sympathizing with their mission. The thing is, these kids aren’t just random punks looking to stir up trouble; they have legitimate axes to grind and, in a way, they are just looking out for the greater good.
It doesn’t make it legal.
‘The East’ excels in one area over all, and that is in the pitch perfect ensemble. Every player here in uniformly great, with a few standouts (this could be Ellen Page’s best performance) and not a single sour note. The brooding is kept at bay, and used only when needed, for there is so much brimming beneath the brood that it becomes important to play it just right. Skarsgard is also very good here, betraying his good looks with something far more impactful.
The film’s message is very much the same as the group it glamorizes, and in that effect it works rather well. The fact remains that things like this are not uncommon (I’m talking conglomerates exploiting and endangering the rest of us) and sometimes it feels like the only thing to do is take matters into one’s own hand. The film’s concluding twist is a smart one, even if it feels anticlimactic in a way (so subtle), because it adds a more realistic and admirable spin on the film’s message. Violence does not beget violence, and so Sarah’s eventual decisions shed a glimmer of hope where bleakness reigns.
I do wish that the clichés regarding the cultish nature of The East weren’t so pronounced (the dinner scene was regrettable), but overall it’s a minor glitch.
Like I said, this film is very polished. The cinematography is beautiful, and adds to the film’s atmosphere. The set pieces are memorable, especially that abandoned house (eerie) and the overall construction of the film’s themes are engaging and interesting. Mostly though, ‘The East’ serves as further proof that Brit Marling is the real deal. She has range (sci-fi, cults, terrorists) and she understands how to build tension without resorting to histrionics or gruesome violence.
I, for one, am anxious to see her become a huge star.
I give this a solid B. Oscar won’t bite at all, but that’s pretty much a given. I wish that Page could get some traction, if only to prove that she can do more than smartass teenager. Her sub-plot was deeply moving.