Art of the Real 728x90 Film Comment Film Society of Lincoln Center

Short Takes: The East

By Laura Kern

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(Zal Batmanglij, U.S., 2013)

The East Zal Batmanglij

In Sound of My Voice (11) two documentarians posing as prospective new members secretly spy on a self-professed time-traveling cult leader played by the film’s co-screenwriter, Brit Marling. The roles are reversed in The East, Marling’s second collaboration with director Zal Batmanglij: she is now the undercover investigator. As a new recruit at a private-sector intelligence agency, “Sarah” is tasked with infiltrating the titular ecoterrorist group. This entails coming up with a smooth way into their world—and the fact that she accomplishes this with improbable ease is probably less indicative of what a pro she is than of the film’s desire to keep the action speeding along (it does, after all, list both Ridley and Tony Scott as producers).

The East’s modus operandi is to give morally reprehensible corporations a taste of their own medicine. Sarah isn’t necessarily opposed to the group’s agenda, which is rather noble (and, in several cases, personally motivated). Yet even though she’s not on board with their choice of actions, her gradual bonding with the group—and ringleader Benji (an impressive Alexander Skarsgård), in particular—is convincingly handled. (The alluring Marling deserves much of the credit for this.)     

The East may not have the rough charm of Sound of My Voice (serious budget inflation has a way of doing that), but the film, if you can temporarily suspend disbelief, is still the kind of rock-solid intelligent entertainment that has become all too rare. Keep ’em coming, Zal and Brit!