Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The East Is A Cast Of Emerging Talent

The East
When former FBI agent Sarah Moss (Brit Marling) is dropped of at Dulles Airport by her boyfriend Tim (Jason Ritter), she doesn't head toward security or her departing flight to Dubai. She exits the airport instead, hails a cab, and heads to a hotel where she immediately dyes her hair and changes her clothes.

The day before, she had been selected by the private intelligence firm Hiller Brood to go deep undercover and infiltrate an underground activist group. The group, The East, targets the corporate executives of companies that its members have found guilty of humanitarian or environmental exploitation.

The movie opens up with the group breaking into the home of an oil company executive and pouring oil into the ductwork. Apparently an act of retaliation for a coastal spill, the oil slowly seeps out of the vents, covering everything in its wake. While never shown, it's implied the executive might have been covered too, an event that attracts the attention of Hiller Brood clients.

A terse psychological thriller that takes aim at emotions and ethics. 

The theme of the movie is relatively straightforward as a modern take on whether the ends justifies the means. But where producer/cowriter/actress Marling and director/cowriter Zal Matmanglij find their footing is in exploring the familiar. The East has many cult-like characteristics and ritualistic activities similar to those in their last film, The Sound Of My Voice.

Moss finds The East by transforming herself into a vagabond traveler and eventually joining rail-riding drifters. She suspects one of them is a member of The East, but he turns out to be an undercover federal agent. She sees him flash his badge when the pack is caught by railroad police.

He flashes as Moss intervenes on behalf of the most vulnerable looking drifter, Luca, whom the railroad police rough up while escorting him off one of the boxcars. Ironically, the unassuming man she saves is a member of The East. He helps her escape and offers to take her someplace for medical attention.

The members of The East are suspicious and divided when Luca brings Moss to their secret squat in the woods. While the group's leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) seems open to accepting her into the group, the outspoken Izzy (Ellen Page) is not. They only agree to let her stay two nights to recover.

The East on FacebookInstead, Moss is recruited to take another member's place in what the group calls a "jam." In this case, one of the members uses his connection to infiltrate a government contract signing party for a pharmaceutical company.

The member, Doc (Toby Kebbell), has evidence that the drug company is marginalizing the extent and severity of the side effects of the antibiotic that the company intends to mass produce for the military. The jam includes spiking champagne with the antibiotic, secretly forcing members of the executive team to take the same risk they find acceptable for servicemen and women.

This jam and others cause Moss to question the ethics and morality of her job to protect what the group considers corporate criminals. It becomes especially difficult as she gets to know and trust other members of the group. Some of them, it seems, have been personally affected by corporate cover ups and negligence. The is one especially pointed scene when Moss tells her boyfriend during a brief reunion that she felt like she was living in a foreign country, but now coming home feels like a foreign country too.

The East By Zal Batmanhlij And Brit Marling Jams 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This time the duo had a bigger budget to bring their vision to life and it shows, but the movie would have done better without the eco-terrorism moniker that reviewers adopted. Eco-terrorism films tend to cool audience interest, making the moniker somewhat of an injustice.

While environmental crime is on the group's radar, The East is more in line with being a corporate vigilante cult as opposed to green police. Despite landing somewhere between commercial and independent, The East reinforces the abilities of Batmanhlij and Marling to entertain our heads.

The East was released early for high definition purchase on iTunes. You can also order The East [Blu-ray] on Amazon (Sept. 17). The movie can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble. For more on Batmanglij and Marling, see the previous review of their work.
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