Sarah Moss (Brit Marling) is a former FBI operative lately recruited into the private sector by Patricia Clarkson’s shadowy private intelligence firm. Acting under orders, Sarah puts on some Birkenstocks and sets out to inflitrate a dangerous new anarchist collective known only as The East. Not acting under orders, she starts to fall for the group’s charismatic leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) and question The Man.
Are these outsiders and terrorists onto something? Could Big Pharma really have aggressively marketed a dangerous antibiotic drug? Might there be some logic to eating from dumpsters and the other tenets of freegan lifestyle? Is the whole damn system broken?
Around these parts, we've been recruiting on behalf of the Brit Marling Fan Club's Irish Chapter for ages. Happily, having missed out on a theatrical release for last year's super Sound of My Voice (which was also co-written and directed by Zal Batmanglij), Marling acolytes can look to The East, the author-actor's latest vehicle.
Following on from Sound of My Voice and Another Earth, The East represents Marling's latest attempt at bringing smarts back to the movies. One couldn't claim that this lively eco-thriller is subtle in its dramatic movements and character arcs. But it does belong to the same old-school of politically engaged cinema that gifted us such 1970s classics as The Conversation and The Parallax View. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov's hide-and-seek widescreen confirms the picture's quality.
Marling makes for a splendid lead, though she has plenty of assistance from Ellen Page (welcome back), Toby Kebbel and Skarsgård. Ah. Even beneath that shaggy, neo-hippie beard now we can see why Warner Bros wanted to put Stellan's son in a loincloth for its upcoming Tarzan reboot.
Marling and the director spent two months living among freegans, research that has translated into a very tactile, authentic world of train-hopping and rotting apples. A tricksy denouement allows the drama to stay taut without The East having to give up on its radical underpinnings.