The Sundance Film Festival presents numerous thrillers every year. However, they aren't all able to stick with audiences, obtain a distributor, and make an impact on viewers. Writers Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling ultimately achieved the first two objectives, but only time will tell if it will entirely succeed in being influential. This project has gained a large amount of hype, since it's directed by the same filmmaker behind Sound of My Voice. With a worthwhile concept and a solid cast, Batmanglij's newest motion picture had potential to be one of the better suspenseful dramas to be released in 2013 thus far. Even though it's a thrilling film, The East has its share of issues that hinder it from being great. However, that doesn't stop this from being a decent flick with a satisfying amount of suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
A young woman is given the name Sarah (Brit Merling) after she is hired as an operative for an elite private intelligence firm. Her priorities in life change dramatically after she is asked to infiltrate an anarchist group. They commit acts of ecoterrorism on corporations that harm the environment and the public health. Once inside the group, Sarah finds herself actually supporting the group's movement. She ultimately develops feelings for the leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgård). This only further assimilates her with the members, who are named Izzy (Ellen Page), Doc (Toby Kebbell), Luca (Shiloh Fernandez), and others.
The East grabbed ahold of my attention from the very first frame, which can be difficult to find in modern cinema. The first sequence introduces handheld footage of the group attacking one of the major corporations with narration by Izzy. The ecoterrorists called "The East" hold a mysterious tone, even after the lead character joins the movement. The remainder of the running time follows Sarah's physical and emotional journey. Once she secures her undercover position, we're introduced to each member of "The East" individually. One of this film's biggest strengths is its use of characters. They all have reasons for supporting the cause, which allows for plenty of character disposition. Some of the roles receive more screen time than others, although the writers succeed in developing individuals that audiences can oddly relate with. While we understand that these characters' actions aren't morally acceptable, they still manage to draw us in. It takes a talented filmmaker to pull off such a feat, but he ultimately succeeds.
The ecoterrorist group allows Sarah to be involved in their plans and activities. They participate in strange games and exercises, although they have purposes that represent ideas, such as trust and respect. Batmanglij incorporates a large amount of parallelism throughout the film's duration. These seemingly random activities represent the lack of connections that she possesses in her real life. This parallelism appears between characters and themes through Sarah's reality and her undercover job. Not only does this interconnect the members of "The East" to each other, but also to the environment. The dialogue can be slightly chaotic at times, although the majority of it flows rather fluidly. Unfortunately, the plot becomes increasingly predictable towards the end. The East is initially eerie and mysterious, but it ultimately proves to touch upon a lot of key moments one would expect to see in a thriller such as this. It's a shame that it didn't push the envelope as much as it should have.
Most of this film's issues are exposed through the final act. Audiences will be able to guess what will happen next, but they will wish that they were wrong. This doesn't only hold true to the narrative. There are numerous character transitions, which aren't entirely convincing. Some of these shifts come across as being quite awkward. I had an incredibly difficult time believing anything that happened in the last fifteen minutes. Batmanglij and Marling's screenplay loses a large amount of its steam, as it fights to remain fresh and innovative. While this ending may work for some, it will feel like a cheap ending for others. Fortunately, there are far more pros than cons, but this last segment of the picture cripples the plot's conclusion. Instead of leaving us at the edge of our seats or delivering any worthwhile mystery, we're presented with a final clip that left me sighing.
This skillful writer/director had the privilege of working with an equally talented cast. Brit Marling is convincing enough as Sarah, even though the material hinders her performance through the final act. She still manages to keep this character grounded and never allows the viewers' minds to wander. Alexander Skarsgård is beginning to allow himself to become typecast. He's believable in this role, although this doesn't feel like the first time he's played this persona. Ellen Page is exceptional in the role of Izzy. She steals every scene that she's in, but shines the brightest through the feature's more emotional moments. Toby Kebbell and Shiloh Fernandez aid in making this group what it is in the roles of Doc and Luca. There isn't a single bad performance to be found in this dramatic mystery.
Batmanglij's gritty atmosphere fits like a glove. This tone is expressed through numerous elements throughout the film. He primarily utilizes close-ups in order to convey our place in Sarah's mind throughout her personal scenes. This allows for Marling's raw emotions to be conveyed as they should. The East isn't shy with its use of handheld footage, which enhances the picture's intense atmosphere. The color palette incorporates a variety of earthy tones, which support the picture's setting in nature. This writer/director assimilates parallelism through the cinematography, which allows audiences to put the puzzle together without having to utilize a flashback structure. This dramatic mystery delivers its visuals extremely well.
The filmmakers maintain a fantastic balance between the known and the unknown through the majority of the picture. However, the final act simply didn't work for me, as it doesn't seem to fit in this motion picture. Despite my gripes, this is a solid mix between numerous genres. The characters are excellent, as are the performances. Most of this feature's content will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Even though the ending falters, The East delivers on most of its promises. Recommended.