Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page
Directed by: Zal Batmanglij (“Sound of My Voice”)
Written by: Zal Batmanglij (“The Sound of My Voice”) and Brit Marling (“Another Earth”)
If you’ve ever wanted to live off the grid – just disappear one day and survive by adopting an anti-consumerist lifestyle – take a look at director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij (“Sound of My Voice”) and actress/co-writer Brit Marling (“Another Earth”) who did exactly that in the Summer of 2009. They’re little adventure together (dumpster diving and hopping trains) would later inspire them to write the screenplay for “The East,” a high-intensity espionage thriller with an eco-friendly message of sorts. While “The East” only scratches the surface of its eco-agenda, it manages to draw some blood when it matters.
Marling stars as Sarah Moss, a former FBI agent turned private intelligence operative who is assigned to a little covert work by her boss (Patricia Clarkson) to protect the companies their firm represents. There’s an anarchist collective known as the East starting trouble for their clients and it’s up to Sarah to find the individuals responsible and infiltrate their group to gather information.
While the script allows Sarah to find who she is looking for a bit too easily, it’s when anarchist members start to trust her that the drama begins to boil over. Included in the group is Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), a charismatic and enigmatic group leader who allows Sarah (now calling herself Jane as part of her undercover mission) into their lair, much to the dismay of Izzy (Ellen Page), a longtime eco-terrorist who trusts no one.
Nevertheless, Sarah is able to weasel her way in and uncover what the East is doing. For example, early in the film the group holds a big oil company’s CEO responsible for spilling millions of gallons of crude into the ocean (think BP oil disaster of 2006) responsible by flooding his home with petroleum. It’s through these “jams” (attacks that are a bit more thought-provoking than, say, what Project Mayhem does in “Fight Club”) where the East is trying to make a social statement.
What Batmanglij does with “The East,” however, isn’t making any broad declarations about the state of America and what we as a country are allowing to happen by turning our backs on certain problems. Batmanglij points many of them out, but gives his audience a chance to figure it out for themselves. Can the East justify their actions because they’re doing it for the greater good? We may not get the answers were looking for but Batmanglij and Marling find fascinating ways to ask tough questions about issues that are many times swept under the rug.
“The East” was screened at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival.