Definitely one of the more mainstream films at Sundance this year, Fox Searchlight presents to us The East, star-studded with Sundance Darling Brit Marling, along with Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez and Patricia Clarkson. This film is big in presentation and scope, filled with recognizable and talented faces, and yet still packs some provocative punches. The film tackles political topics from difficult stances and does it all with a cult-worship premise. When done right, subversive is the best thing for a film, and this film knew exactly how to entice audiences without excluding them.
- Director: Zal Batmanglij
- Screenwriter(s): Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
- Cinematographer(s): Roman Vasyanov
- Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson
Ex-FBI agent Sarah Moss is hired to go undercover and investigate The East, a group of anarchists harassing corporate CEOS by forcing them to consume the harmful products that their companies make. The further into the journey she goes, the more she grows to sympathize with the powerful group.
- The Suspense: Probably one of the most enjoyably stressful films of the festival (other than Stoker), this film has you on the edge of your seat and intrigued the whole way through. The end becomes a touch formulaic, but only compared to it’s wonderfully offbeat first and second act.
- Performances: They were all honest and felt important, not only to the story but in some kind of grander way. The ensemble was very equal across the board with Marling expectedly unexpected, Page bad-ass and yet vulnerable, and it was a relief to see Skarsgard without his fangs and with some depth.
- The Unfolding of the Story: The story doesn’t just let you in, it allows you to enter piece by piece. The first act does an especially good job at being a mainstream cop/thriller, while also being an odd indie film.
- The Cult: It’s hard to build a cinematic cult without it appearing contrived over indulgent. For “normal” people, there are certain aspects of a cult, that no matter how real they are, they’re hard to believe. Cinema is always trying to persuade you to believe the world you see on the screen, and when it’s trying to bring you into a world that audiences don’t believe or understand on principle, it’s tricky. Not impossible, simply tricky, and more often than not, people fail when trying. This film does not fail. It had just the right amount of crazy, mixed with just enough explanation to make it seem somehow real and possibly even justified.
- The Simple Twist: It’s too difficult to talk about the ending without ruining the joy of the film. So while intentionally trying to be both vague for those who haven’t seen the film, and clear for those who have, the scene at the end with Brit Marling and Patricia Clarkson felt like it was too obvious. Marling’s character would never have been so transparent at this point in the game.
- The Last Act: Though “bad” is too harsh of a word for it, the end was the least suspenseful part of the film and didn’t leave me pondering or as emotionally effected as I wanted to be, or as I was at the start. It feels as if there was a riskier choice that was passed by. Possibly another ending. This ending is probably better for a wide release, BUT I couldn’t help but wonder if there was another ending that would have been riskier and possibly more successful.
Fun film, great topics, it’s challenging enough to make it enjoyable and different, but easy enough to swallow that it doesn’t alienate people and makes for an easy watch amongst almost any audience.