Reviews by Chew - 'The East'

By Gary Chew | June 21, 2013 |    The inward sign of maturity, or at least getting on into geezer hood, is seeing a movie in which...

By Gary Chew | June 21, 2013 | 
The inward sign of maturity, or at least getting on into geezer hood, is seeing a movie in which one spots the nuanced immaturity in the work of young filmmakers --- yet catch the promise of what might come for and from them as they hopefully reap more from their talent, industry and vision.

“The East” is one those movies: a little focus-groupy here and there, but freighting a message that well out weighs an unmanned drone aircraft on the prowl.

After the screening I went to, I could have sworn everyone else who'd just seen “The East” was, like me, still internally processing parts of Zal Batmanglij's new movie. He and Brit Marling, the film's female lead, wrote the script.

It's neat to see cross-gender collaboration the likes of this movie, and the recent “Frances Ha,” which takes benefit from keen writing by Greta Gerwig and that film's director, Noah Baumbach. “The East” is no heartwarming New York City street-smart comedy of substance, and “Frances Ha” doesn't appeal to the passions of right and wrong as much; nor the ruthlessness that obtains from the concrete-solid convictions held by the young adults being played in “The East.”

Marling is a spook for an espionage firm in the business of spying for corporate clients. She targets ecco-terrorists, whom the story has as having it “up to here” with the poisoning of human beings, the air beings breathe and the land on which they live. Her name is Sarah.

She's a devout Christian; serious-minded. Neither undereducated nor a low-info woman: whip like in her thinking and arrogance. Sarah takes the corporation's side of the environment equation. There are similarities between the character Marling plays and two other newly come superwomen doing film roles with names such as Katniss and Lisbeth – whoa.

Two of the ecco-terrorists are Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) and Izzy (Ellen Page). Sarah infiltrates their small hardscrabble band of retribution experts after excitement enough that proves her viability and integrity for pulling “jams.” They're the damaging events the radicals plan and execute by surprise on unsuspecting megacorporation staff and property. (Now we know why business has taken to spying on those other than just market competitors.)

In part, the velocity of “The East” may be to blame for its abrupt transitions. They whisk so quickly from the activists' funky, rural hideaway to where the group almost magically appears – dressed to the nines – deftly navigating the pure swank and soiree of corporate doublethink. You'd think these radicals were all high-rising executive wannabes who'd never be caught dead dumpster diving for trashed fast food as they were in an earlier scene. Yes, hardscrabble and dedicated yet, when in yuppy land, so with it.

A smidgen more in the exposition leading into this stark change of venue would have been welcome. In this instance, that meant for surprise seems to work better at confusing.

We finally learn that Benji and Izzy are children of wealth. Conveniently, the hideout is old, isolated property of Benji's family. Benji and Izzy are sick of their previous lives of privilege and besides, Izzy's father is an unrepentant executive jerk who needs to poison rivers and streams to make a good profit for his company. Her get-even scene with Dad and Mom goes a little overboard but as Izzy would have it, “swimmingly,” though in murky waters. Oh, the vengeful adult child on the loose.

Benji's history is not quite so stark, but he's as resolute as Izzy. He's the latent male leader, although most of the women in this cadre of rads could probably kick his butt.

Why there's so little of Sarah's history is perplexing. It could be that her family background may not be as acceptable since she's working against “The East.” Her relationship with her significant other, when not on assignment, seems in conflict with what Sarah appears to be; perhaps a suggestion that she is, although a religious, unmarried woman, sexually active with her guy when not out spying. Her attraction to and trysting with Skarsgard's Benji, after the pair becomes acquainted, find more comfort in the believability zone. The script may be avoiding writing Sarah's parents into people offensive for some who would see the movie.

Then again, it could be a ploy to attract young audiences that are more than on just one side of this modern contemporary issue. Something to think about.

The film has heft. It makes one wonder what could come from our turning a collective back on circumstances that endanger the habitability of future Earth … and people then trying to exist on it.

It takes three good leading actors to bring off these intense emotions, keeping their characters' acts together, not letting them become vulnerable should an intimate relationship arise … and, for heaven's sake, not changing his or her mind about their fundamental cause.

Marling, Skarsgard and Page deliver, especially the women, including the solid, much-appreciated talents of Patricia Clarkson as Sarah's oh so clever executive spy boss. These women convince as badass females. I wonder if, before shooting “The East,” the gals reviewed any old movies of Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Kathryn Hepburn to see how it's done. That list of “ladies” names four who really knew.

Can you imagine Brit Marling, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Lawrence and Rooney Mara becoming film directors, then refining - in the future - their current characters' messages? I can. And won't it be fun!

Copyright © 2013 by Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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