The East

Director: Zal Batmanglij

Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Patricia Clarkson, Shiloh Fernandez

Written by:  Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling

Running Time: 116 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 28th June 2013

Last year, one of my favourite films was a small, independent drama called Sound Of My Voice by upcoming writers Zal Batmanglij (who also acted as director) and Brit Marling (who starred). This year the team are back with a bigger budget and a bigger film altogether as they tackle the subject of eco-anarchists in a drama that isn’t as successful as their previous film but still miles better than most Hollywood dramas.

Sarah is a successful operative in an elite private intelligence firm. She is at the top of her game and is highly respected by her boss, Sharon, who sees a lot of her in the young recruit. She is given a big task: to infiltrate an anarchist group who are out to attack top corporations they believe are creating  death and pollution to gain profit. After first finding them, Sarah, in deep undercover, has to prove herself to the group’s leader, Benji, as well as the suspicions of the other members. As she becomes more accepted, she finds that her opinions are changing that could affect her judgement.

The subject matter of eco-warriors may not be one that instantly would attract the usual multiplex audience that are use to big budget, mindless blockbusters but  Batmanglij and Marling are mindful of that and have tried not to be too preachy but delivered a straightforward drama with thriller elements that keep you intrigued throughout. The pair are not your average, run-of-the-mill, formulaic writing partnership. Sound Of My Voice, a film about a cult, didn’t fully receive the audience it deserved but it was a critical success and obviously Fox Searchlight had enough faith in them to allow them to produce this. I’m glad they did.

There are moments when the film sags and the ending isn’t quite successful but it does deal with the situations and the ideas in a mature way, never once talking down to its audience or treating them like idiots. It’s own political views are there to see but are never thrusted down our throats. Instead, it allows the action to play out without ever being condescending.

The performances are nicely pitched. Marling is an unusual leading lady in that she doesn’t have the classic film star qualities and yet she is always incredibly watchable. She has a quiet screen presence that makes her both believable and commanding, without ever having to go over-the-top. Alexander Skarsgard’s big screen outings of late have been somewhat disappointing. The star of True Blood had to content with films like Battleship and the remake of Straw Dogs but here he is much better suited playing the leader of the eco-warriors, Benji.

Once again, however, it’s the star turn of Ellen Page that gets the real attention. In a much smaller role, as a suspicious member of the gang, she has that power to make you watch her and never let your eyes leave. It is another terrific performance from one of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars.

Although this is a much more polished production than their previous outings, it is flawed and it does suffer from the extended running time (just under 2 hours) but it has plenty of atmosphere and even more positives than negatives. However you view it, there’s plenty to talk about once you have seen it and you don’t get that too often from movies nowadays. I, for one, am looking forward to what the pair have to offer in the future.

4/5

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