Friday, February 07, 2014
The East, directed by Zat Batmanglij and written by Batmanglij and Brit Marling, is a follow-up to their Sound of My Voice and like that film it puts an outsider into a group of committed individuals and waits for what happens next. Sound of My Voice raised more questions than it answered (on purpose, if you ask me) and The East makes the same mistake, though since the film has the structure of a thriller what is meant to be profundity winds up looking like sloppiness. Jane (Marling) works for a private security firm called Hiller Brood and is tasked to infiltrate an ecoterrorist group called The East that pulls off high profile attacks on corporate executives. Jane, known as Sarah undercover, makes contact with the group pretty easily after some hobo activity on the railroad and is soon at the headquarters working alongside group leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) and the group's dark angel Izzy (Ellen Page, underused). There's a strange lack of both detail and tension in The East, the group's access to its targets comes with remarkable ease and the members come and go from their hideout like it's a social club. There's also the reporting of a news story that no company would ever let be broadcast proving The East were right about a dangerous drug. We're supposed to believe that Jane is becoming radicalized by her work with The East, but Batmanglij and Marling want to have it both ways since Jane is also developing an attraction to Benji. Ellen Page gives the best performance in The East; her confrontation with her target (Jamey Sheridan) is the one scene where it feels like anything could happen. Patricia Clarkson is efficient and opaque as Jane's boss, and the movie's not so subtle point is that by infiltrating radicals Jane and her company are serving the very corporate interests that The East is fighting against. There's a film to be made about radicalism in a post-Occupy society, but The East lacks bite and settles for a cop-out ending that plays out over the credits. The struggle continues.