BRIT MARLING ALEXANDER SKARSGARD ELLEN PAIGE SHILOH FERNANDEZ PATRICIA CLARKSON TOBY KEBBELL JASON RITTER JULIA ORMOND
What is so frustrating is that hoards of people are watching Fast & Furious 6 or This is the End instead of watching something smart, sexy and really interesting like The East. I had the chance to speak with co-writer, producer and star of The East, Brit Marling, at this year’s SXSW. She delivers her best work to date; The East is a film that combines real government and societal issues and inserts them into this fabricated group that often hurts people to expose and prove their point, thus asking the audience if the ends justify the means. Is this group terrorist or are they trying to prevent further cover-ups?
The East is known as a secret movement throughout the US where small groups plan what are known as “jams”. One of their most recent was putting a highly controversial drug company's own drug in their champagne as the CEOs and high ranking officials of the company celebrated. Some of them suffered adverse effects, and The East proved a point. Jane (Marling) works for an intelligence firm that has sent her in to spy on one of these groups, which is led by Benji (Skarsgard). She joins their group and becomes one of them, but doesn’t agree with their ideology of hurting one person to save another. It also becomes clear that her agency is being paid by certain groups to go after The East, and she finds herself looking for an impossible alternative.
This could have been a standard infiltration thriller using a young, hip cast including Skarsgard (True Blood) and Paige (Juno, Inception), but the creativity and the ultimate message here-- “the system is broken, the evidence is in the trash”--is a powerful one. Marling, who co-wrote the script with director Zal Batmanglij, has used daring examples from her own life in the film. This performance, unlike small roles in Arbitrage or The Company You Keep, certainly reveal her leading lady-like quality. Skarsgard continues to find himself in the best films of 2013 (Disconnect, What Maisie Knew).
The most surprising element of this thriller is not the suspense or the performances, but the eroticism. With arguably one of the most interesting spin-the-bottle sequences involving all kinds of free love, it’s the nude scenes involving Skarsgard that will have many of his fans buying a ticket. Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson is a great asset to the film, and one that shows clever casting and understanding of her talent and presence. There is a really magnificent scene at the dinner table involving straight-jackets that I found incredibly clever and well executed, and like everything else in the film, it makes a profound point.
Final Thought – Suspenseful, profound and extremely sexy.
By: Dustin Chase
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
You go, Brit Marling! This is intelligent filmmaking at its best. It deals with an important contemporary issue; it packs a dramatic wallop; and production (writing, directing, acting, cinematography, music) is top notch. Plus, it pulls for a range of emotions from start to finish. To me, it was a bit confusing in the beginning (not a drawback, but a strength), when Sarah (Brit Marling) applies for an assignment and is given rapid-fire enigmatic advice and instructions from her boss (Patricia Clarkson). As she starts her infiltration into an activist group, the dangers in her assignment start becoming apparent, and the audience is on board.
As we follow Sarah in doing her job, we get what is probably a realistic picture of the dynamics of an activist group that is committed to social change. They can be appealing in their playfulness, dedicated in their commitment, and in, at times, oddball behavior. Their histories, as they are gradually revealed make their positions understandable. When they are at their most daring, however, it is shocking, and our sympathies are pulled in different directions at once. The legitimate question posed is where the boundaries of activism should lie—something every individual might answer differently.
Brit Marling is a superb actress who occupies seamlessly every character she portrays (as in Another Earth, Arbitrage, The Company You Keep). She keeps her character fresh and genuine and subtly uses her body and voice to help convey the character’s experience. Patricia Clarkson is another fine actress who can be convincing in a wide range of roles. And Ellen Page—the sassy teenager in Juno has easily evolved to be able to play a rather terrifying adult. Alexander Skarsgard is proving himself in consistently fine performances, most recently in The East, What Maisie Knew, Disconnect, and Melancholia. The rest of the cast likewise contribute to the quality of this film.
A major strength of The East is a script by writer/director Zal Batmanflij and co-writer Marling that keeps an audience guessing as to what will happen next, while pulling one’s sense of ethics this way and that. The writers have done a fantastic job in presenting all sides of the tension/dilemma between corporate over-reach and viable ways for conscientious people to respond. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered physical, mental, and property damage as a result of irresponsible corporations who put profit ahead of human welfare. But the response of an eye-for-an-eye/tooth-for-a -tooth is not the answer either. One reason the script is so good is that it offers a reasonable solution at the end.
One of the three best movies of the year so far. Grade: A