'The East' Review: Soft on Eco-Terrorism, Hard on Compelling Drama, Thrills
Even those horrified by eco-terrorists might be curious to know what makes these radicals tick.
The East, a new film from screenwriter/actress Brit Marling, barely scratches what could be a pretty interesting surface. Instead, the so-called thriller skimps on motivation, explanation and depth, leaving a green drama that might make even anarchists pine for more.
The setup sure grabs our attention. The East, a ragtag group of anti-corporate types, exist to punish businesses with a dollop of their own medicine. Poison the planet, will you? We're going to poison you back.
Enter Jane (Marling), a former FBI agent hired by a security firm to infiltrate the group. She listens to Christian music (a detail delivered early on and then ignored), has a loving boyfriend and will do whatever it takes to complete her mission.
What she doesn't expect is to bond with the anarchists, from live wire Izzy (Ellen Page), to the quietly charismatic Benji (Alexander Skarsgard, True Blood). Why wouldn't she? These anarchists are adorable--when they play Spin the Bottle they ask for both kisses AND hugs. They also howl when the spirit moves them. And they're lashing out at corporate types who purposely hurt people, or so the simple-minded narrative tells us.
The East gives us flimsy back stories for our courageous anarchists, thumbnail sketches which don't feel emotionally honest. Why don't they just video some of the wrong doing and release it to both old and new media? Heck, just point a camera at that river with all the dead fish floating in it, and you've got a viral sensation. No, they have some anger in them, if not outright malice, but the emaciated screenplay can't tell us why.
Marling's character would need two rewrites to be a cipher. Her boyfriend (Jason Ritter) is an afterthought, as is her faith, and her romantic arc is equally threadbare.
Sarah's entrance into The East also defies belief. She artfully scuffs her Birkenstocks to look the part, but then dyes her hair an appealing shade of blond to better fit in. She's a master of disguise, all right.
The East eventually gets around to showing these anarchists might not be as wholesome as apple pie crumbs found in a dumpster. By then, we're hungry for more than just the film's dramatic scraps.