Wednesday, June 19

REVIEW: The East


Directed by Zal Batmanglij
2013 Drama
1 hour 54 minutes
From Fox Searchlight

Brit Marling
Alexander Skarsgård
Ellen Page
Toby Kebbell
Shiloh Fernandez
Patricia Clarkson
Julia Ormond
Jason Ritter
Jamey Sheridan
Pamela Roylance

On the same day about a week ago a Los Angeles friend texted me to be sure and see this film and a couple of hours later I saw co-producer/co-writer/star Brit Marling on some talk show trumpeting the virtues of seeing her film.  It seemed divined somehow that I scurry off to one of our two art houses to catch it for myself.

I had first learned of Marling some months back when I happened to catch Arbitrage (reviewed in these pages) and I thought she was impressive as Richard Gere's daughter in a dark drama about corporate treachery.  It seemed natural perhaps that she would now land in this film which also deals with corporate shenanigans.  And when I learned that Alexander Skarsgård, an actor who commands my complete attention, was in it, it was a done deal.

The East tells the story of a ragtag group of vigilantes intent on bringing justice to corporate wrongdoers and of a young woman, a former FBI agent now working for a private elite firm, who is sent out in the world to oust terrorists from their hidden enclaves. 

That sent out in the world part was one of my earliest head-scratchers.  For whatever reason (I may have been focusing on a patron two rows behind me rattling around in his bag of popcorn) she ends up changing her hair color from brown to blonde (why?) and hopping a freight train full of hoboes where she hopes to run into someone who can lead her to anyone who may be involved in white collar terrorism.  And it works!  Oh really? 

As luck would have it, she meets up with someone who is part of The East, yes the title and the name of the bad guys.  Truth is I never thought they were so bad.  Everything seemed to be handled rather democratically in the group which might work for a middle school spelling bee but methinks terrorists usually run things by one-man rule.  Furthermore the only corporate groups targeted seemed to be those who were personally known to members of The East.  It was all a little too friendly for my tastes.  I needed a little more menacing.

Another criticism is that I never really felt the group's angst and motivations.  Part of the fun in movies like this-- the little guy out to slay the corporate meanies, is the emotions one works up, the delicious sense of payback.  Some of it was there but not nearly enough.  I would like to have seen for myself why the bad guys were so bad rather than being told they were bad.  My palms never got sweaty and they should have.  It might be noted that the group is not out to kill anyone but simply to bring about public outing and embarrassment.

Of course the infiltrator's presence is compromised because she falls for the group's leader.  I did enjoy this aspect of the story, I confess, but it did lessen the overall impact of the film.

On the good side was the perfect casting and good acting of  everyone involved.  Marling is very watchable and Skarsgård, while sexy and handsome, is dangerous looking especially when his eyes bore in on someone.  You're just not sure what he's going to do and I love that in an actor. 

So if my friend saw a bit more in this film than I did, hey, that's quite ok.  I was entertained.  It just could have been a bit tighter and smarter for my tastes.

The Directors: Peter Weir

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