The East, the latest collaboration between director Zal Batmanglij and actress/screenwriter Brit Marling, suffers from the same problem as their previous picture, Sound of My Voice: It’s taut, compelling, unpredictable and completely wipes out in the final few minutes.
Their subject last time was a cult leader who claimed to be from the future and whose following started to grow. This time, the filmmakers choose a grittier subject: A group of eco-terrorists who live off the land in a sort of hippie commune and want to wreak revenge on companies who are destroying the environment and polluting the earth. The group isn’t necessarily violent — they break into the home of an oil company CEO and fill his house with sludge — but there is always a sense of danger pending, a vibe that a mission could end badly.
Marling, an actress who radiates a compelling, hypnotic calm — you always know there’s more to her than you see at first — plays Sarah, an agent for an intelligence firm who is assigned to infiltrate the group and discover what their next big demonstration is. Some of the group’s members, such as Izzy (Ellen Page), dislike her immediately and don’t trust her. Others, such as the group’s magnetic leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), are more intrigued. Benji is always looking to recruit more members into the fold and prides himself on his ability to judge character.
Although the premise is a bit far-fetched, The East has some sequences of sustained suspense, such as the group’s elaborate ploy to invade a pharmaceutical company’s shindig and inject their own toxic meds into everyone’s champagne. As the stakes rise and a death occurs, the movie becomes increasingly gripping. But in the final five minutes, the story takes a disappointing turn that, while not as frustrating as the finale of Sound of My Voice, still doesn’t live up to what has come before. I hope Batmanglij and Marling collaborate again in the future — they keep getting so close to a home run — but in the end, The East goes south.
Cast: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson.
Director: Zal Batmanglij.
Screenwriter: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling.
Producers: Michael Costigan, Jocelyn Hayes, Brit Marling.
A Fox Searchlight release. Running time: 116 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, brief nudity, brief violence, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Sunset Place, South Beach; in Palm Beach: Parisian, Palace.