Director: Zal Batmanglij
Writers: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Stars: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page
Motion Picture Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 116 minutes
Over the opening credits oil slicks pollute coastlines as an Ellen Page voiceover introduces an eco-terrorist group called The East. It is a strong intro to a topical and interesting subject. The East is a young anti-corporate group of agent provocateurs that target businesses polluting the environment. Members are described as anarchists and counter-culture types. We expect a mix of Green Peace activists and Occupy Wall Street protesters with the likes of Exxon, Goldman Sachs and Dow Chemical firmly in the crosshairs of their righteous rifles.
Page plays true believing activist Izzy. The lead character Sarah is her opposite and played by Brit Marling (sharing the writing credit with director Zal Batmanglij). Sarah works for a private company that protects the reputations of big business. The company sends her to infiltrate The East as a part of their surveillance and counter-terrorism work. She is chosen in part because she is a highly unlikely agent provocateur. She is a straight-laced Christian radio listening good girl (so just maybe The East will not see her coming…) Sarah’s journey into the heart of the anarchists’ collective, and away from the expected path, is no doubt where the film-makers expected drama to emanate from.
Unfortunately, the role of Sarah and the casting of Marling hobble the film from the get-go. She looks too much like a hair model, acts in an oddly impassive manner, and her character is simply far too naïve to ever be selected as an undercover operative. Marling can act and has shown up well in films such as Another Earth, but I don’t see her as a lead and one suspects her writing credit and friendship with the director partly led to the unconvincing turn here. That is a pity because the subject and basic premise are worthwhile.
Elsewhere the casting is similarly flawed. The East comprises of Page, Toby Kebbell as Doc, Aldis Hodge as Thumbs, and Alexander Skarsgard as their sensitive leader Benji. Together they look like a J Crew version of an eco-terrorist group. It’s a young, good-looking, confident and well attired group that would look out of place at Glastonbury let alone a Green Peace protest. It’s all too unbelievable and any semblance of drama from an early attack on a big pharmaceutical target dissipates as the gang mope and squabble and pout and shout. Their later raids are less impressive and the lack of drama continues to a muted ending. This is a missed opportunity. Never have counter culture types, anti-corporate terrorism and deep under-cover work been so dull.