In the eyes of many, Brit Marling has truly become the Queen of Sundance. In 2011 she erupted onto the independent scene as a writer and star of two very well-received films, Another Earth and Sound of My Voice. She followed up her sparkling debut at the festival by returning in 2012 with another solid supporting turn in the suspense-drama Arbitrage. Completing the "hat-trick" in 2013, Marling officially became the "bell of the ball" with this year's provocative thriller, The East. As the writer and star, once again, Marling and her Sound of My Voice director, Zal Batmanglij, continue to raise the bar. Leaving only one question left. How high can it go? Perhaps we'll find out at next year's Sundance Film Festival.
Sarah (Marling) works as an operative for a privately owned intelligence firm. Some of their biggest clients are many of the world's largest companies. When an underground eco-terrorist group called "The East" publicly threatens to attack three major corporations in the upcoming months, Sarah is sent to infiltrate the elusive anarchist collective. While working undercover, she begins to form a strong connection with the group and its charismatic leader Benji (played by Alex Skarsgard), forcing Sarah to re-think almost every aspect of her life.
Without a doubt, The East is the finest work yet from writer/actress Brit Marling and her long-time friend, director Zal Batmanglij. Having previously worked together on Sound of My Voice, which follows a similarly-themed group of investigators into a growing cult, Marling and Batmanglij perfect the "outsider" storyline. For as wonderful as Marling is on screen, alongside other massively convincing performances from co-stars Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard, her writing ability truly shines the brightest. To her discredit, however, all three of her motion picture screenplays to date have centered on characters weaseling their way into a situation where their true identity is unknown. That being said, I'd love to see her expand her creativity by tackling different themes. Don't get me wrong, The East has a magnificent screenplay, but I believe Marling is capable of delivering a breakthrough story that goes off in a separate direction from her past work. Furthermore, The East offers multi-dimensional characters throughout a slow-burning and suspenseful thrill ride. What the film lacks in action, it makes up with fine-tuned creativity and an interesting collection of subplots circling faith and religion. There's no shortage of memorable scenes, making The Eastan intriguing option against this year's crop of summer blockbusters.
For all of its glowing attributes, there are a few small deterrents to the film. The Eastflows a little slower than the falsely advertised action-packed trailer that it proudly displays. Instead of the big-budget special effects and gaudy action sequences we've come to expect during the summer months, the feature prides itself on a gradual intensity that never feels overbearing, but never lets up. Moreover, as the eco-terrorist group proclaims, it will attack three major corporations in the upcoming months. Therefore, the audience is forced to submit to the cyclic approach taken by screenwriters Marling and Batmanglij. It's by no means a burden, but rather a similarity that slightly waters down the appeal as the running time continues to mount.
For what it's worth, The East is another commendable piece of work from the young up-and-comers Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. It's always refreshing seeing the undeniable talents of youthful artists, with hopes that they haven't even scratched the surface of their abilities. I would expect many more joint efforts from the duo in the future. However, I strongly suggest getting ahead of the curve and keeping an eye out later this month for the release of The East. It's one of the good ones.