The East is an AWESOME thriller! It draws you in with its high stakes situations and the intense moral quandary facing the main character, played by Brit Marling, keeping you on the edge of your seat for almost two hours. The tight script was co-written by Marling and director Zal Batmanglij and contains a bunch of memorable lines that I have been quoting non-stop since the screening. There is some similarity to their previous Sundance collaboration, Sound of My Voice, but this is a different, larger, and more complex film that stands to do well commercially.
Jane, Marling’s character, is an ex FBI agent who starts her first assignment in her new job at a top corporate intelligence (aka ‘espionage’) firm. Patricia Clarkson, Jane’s boss (think the younger & crueler Judi Dench M) sees a lot of potential in Jane and sends her on a very complex mission to infiltrate a group of environment/corporate terrorists. After a full immersion, and a few false leads, Jane finds her targets, but soon realizes the group, led by the charismatic Benji, played Alexander Skarsgard, is actually doing good and creating social change. She must wrestle her obligations as a law-abiding citizen, a well-paid employee, and an impassioned revolutionary as the group’s terrorist strikes become increasing dangerous with larger amounts of collateral damage to civilians.
Before starting the script, Zal and Brit spent a summer on a road trip where they tried living for a month on barely any money by dumpster diving for food and riding on empty cargo trains to get around. They lived with a group of young people who are essentially modern drifters and used that experience to create the tight knit terrorist group featured in the film. They also, expertly connected the group’s missions to current hot topics giving the film strong relevance. It is particularly interesting to see Brit’s take on corporate greed as she has a degree in economics and used to work as an investment banker, a profession made famous in American Psycho and the epitome of American capitalism.
Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgård’s performances are powerful yet nuanced and when you include the killer jobs by Ellen Paige, Patricia Clarkson, and Julia Ormand and it is clear that Zal Batmanglij is doing an amazing job in the director’s chair. During the Q&A Brit and Zal revealed that during the writing process they would often act out scenes to both improve dialogue and make sure they would work off the page. This craftsmanship is clear throughout the film making it a really enjoyable and visually enticing film that will hopefully spawn both some social change and more Brit and Zal combinations. As a former business student myself, I am thrilled.
Cast and Credits
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Screenwriters: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Executive Producer: Tony Scott
Producers: Ridley Scott, Michael Costigan, Jocelyn Hayes-Simpson, Brit Marling
Cinematographer: Roman Vasyanov
Editors: Andrew Weisblum, Bill Pankow
Production Designer: Alex DiGerlando
Costume Designer: Jenny Gering
Principal Cast: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson
Check out Anna’s other reviews from Sundance 2013 here!