Smart and statuesque, Brit Marling may be the blond glamour goddess of indie cinema. In old Hollywood, she would have been cast as a scientist or college professor, in a dubious attempt to convince viewers that the hero was oblivious to her Nordic good looks until she removed her glasses.
A former FBI agent, Sarah Moss, is starting a new career at Hiller Brood, an elite private intelligence firm that ruthlessly protects the interests of ...
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some disturbing images, sexual content and partial nudity
Length: 116 minutes
Released: May 31, 2013 Limited
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Brit Marling, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Writer: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij
Such humiliations aren’t necessary for sufficiently ingenious actors/filmmakers in the digital age of the post-millennium. Instead of suffering a Hollywood apprenticeship, Marling co-wrote, co-produced and starred in the low-budget “Another Earth,” a Connecticut-made 2011 film about a woman facing an existential crisis at the same time astronomers announce the discovery of a mirror Earth on the other side of the sun. This was science fiction without special effects — the science fiction of ideas. Unfortunately, the ideas were too obscure to have much impact.
At the same Sundance Film Festival where “Another Earth” debuted, Marling also could be found in “Sound of My Voice,” which she co-wrote with the movie’s director, Zal Batmanglij. In that film, she was a mysterious cult leader whose followers believed her to be a time traveler from the future. Again, the subject matter admirably went beyond the navel-gazing “realism” that characterized the first films of many of her contemporaries. But the movie’s execution was not as compelling as its premise.
Nevertheless, these impressive if humorless and self-consciously arty efforts led to Marling being cast with Richard Gere in “Arbitrage” and alongside Robert Redford in “The Company You Keep.” Big paychecks, no doubt, but true to the implication of the latter film’s title, Marling hasn’t left her earlier collaborators behind. She has rejoined writer-director Batmanglij as star and co-writer of “The East,” another story about a possibly sinister cult, shot in familiarly murky indie style despite the increased resources available from producers Ridley (“Alien”) Scott and his brother, the late Tony (“Top Gun”) Scott.
In “The East,” Marling is skeptical outsider rather than cult prophet. She is Sarah Moss, a former FBI agent who works for a private intelligence firm that protects the interests of multinational corporations and other wealthy clients.
Sarah’s assignment in the film is to infiltrate an “anarchist collective” that calls itself The East, which carries out strikingly dramatic public actions against industrial polluters, greedy pharmaceutical companies and other corporations that make the world a worse place to live for the sake of enormous profits. In a condescending detail, Sarah is presented as a Christian, to suggest she’s susceptible to the idealistic promises of faith communities even before she meets the true believers of The East.
Posing as a backpacking free spirit, Sarah gets her first lead when she hops a railcar alongside what appear to be several banjo-strumming members of Mumford & Sons; later, she befriends a Dumpster-diving Jack White wannabe in a fedora who leads her to a forest retreat where The East is revealed to be a sort of punk-hippie commune led by handsome if Manson-hairy Alexander Skarsgaard. Juno is there, too — i.e., feisty Ellen Page.
“The East” should have been developed as a dramatic serial on cable television drama, where it could have occupied the middle ground between “Homeland” and “The Following.” Stretched over several open-ended episodes, these characters and their dilemmas might have been more convincing than they are in a two-hour narrative, and the unimaginative visuals might have appeared less dull on a smaller scale. As it is, the film is marred by pretentiousness, as if the mere fact that it raises troubling issues about corporate and personal responsibility makes it more valuable than a more exciting but “merely” escapist spy movie.
“The East” is at the Malco Ridgeway Four.