The East is the second combination between Britt Marling and Zal Batmanglij, the two previously worked on the thriller The Sound of my Voice which concerned a pair on investigative journalists infiltrating a cult (lead by Marling). Similarities between the two films are obvious on paper, in The East Britt Marling plays Jane Owen (aka Sarah Moss) a former FBI agent now working for a private detective firm headed by Patricia Clarkson. Jane Owen is assigned to infiltrate an organization know as The East, however the longer she stays with the group the more their activities appeal to her.
The East is a relevant piece of work, especially in today’s world with increased public and governmental pressure on like the likes British Petroleum who received a $4.5 billion dollar for the massive oil spill in 2010. The film is even more relevant today with a number of Greenpeace members in a Russia prison for boarding an oil rig (rightfully so, in my mind). Especially with the current climate The East is a thought provoking film, how far do activists have to go to make the voices heard? What lengths do they have to go to make an impact on the large multinational companies polluting the sea, lakes and the planet?
The East looks at these questions, but does on occasions answer these questions in rather black and white terms. With one exception the heads of the multinational companies are presented as emotionless and unconcerned about any damage their products are doing to the environment and other humans whilst the members of The East are portrayed as those fighting for a noble cause. Whilst the first issue is the weightier of the two, The East does, on the whole, engage in the debate about the moral questions asked in the film rather well. The film’s message is clear in its ending which is ruined by what we see during the end credits, but it is one I agree with.
Britt Marling is fast becoming one the most talented actresses in the business, especially on the independent film scene. Intelligent and flawlessly beautiful (not got a crush, honest) Marling has proved that she an exceptional writer and actress who is destined for great things. After some good performances in Another Earth, and a particularly menacing one in Sound of my Voice, Marling delivers another superb performance. The longer Jane Owen stays with the group the more her loyalties are torn, the more Owen finds Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) more appealing. Marling conveys this well, the inner turmoil tearing her apart, but it is subtly done.
What isn’t as convincing is why her loyalties were tested, was Benji really that charismatic? No, Benji was not charismatic enough to make it believable that Jane would fall for him, the entire love story feels forced and unconvincing. On the other hand the espionage aspect of the story is done rather well; the further Jane becomes involved in the group’s activities the more danger she is in. The tension is brilliantly maintained with the possibility of each visit to the house being the last.
The East is certainly thought provoking; it is hard to disagree with the group’s aims, but hard to agree with its methods. The East may present the moneyman at the top of the multinational companies too simplistically, but The East is gripping and tense thriller.