Nick's Review of The East
2011's "Sound of My Voice" made notice of a twisty new talent named Zal Batmanglij, only it had the unfortunate timing of being released the same year as Mike Cahill's similar sci-fi "Another Earth" (they aren't that similar but you know what I mean), which also introduced the world to the striking talent and lethal beauty of Brit Marling. That duo of Batmanglij and Marling returns in "The East", only it's in the guise of something more conventional and confused. Seriously, this movie is so frustrating. At its most lukewarm it brought to mind "The Company You Keep" from earlier this year in its lack of focus or edge. Instead of honing in on the hypocrisy of the corporate elite the East group is rallying against -- or the equal hypocrisy of anarchist groups as a whole -- "The East" turns its eye to the gossip and politics within their individual cartel. And in that, it too broadly glosses over its governmental elements as a sort of blank, faceless evil.
Now that being said, the through-line of ecoterrorism seems exactly right a theme for Batmanglij to play with, and "The East" in its high points is a thriller, but in a more heady, complicated sense than anything run-of-the-mill. It isn't trying to be a documentary or a perfect culmination of all its ideas. Marling is a reliably provocative lead who gets at the heart of her undercover intelligence operative's turbulence and conflicting desires, and gets you caught up in it too. Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page as The East's ringleader and fatal troupe member, respectively, give solid turns. "The East" may only sputter toward being more than the sum of its parts, but its fragile, pained soul is transcendent. It's a bitter pill to swallow and even harder to sweat out.