The East | Review

Zal Batmanglij The East Review

Activism Unchained: Batmanglij Thrills With Eco-Terror

Zal Batmanglij The East PosterSeemingly a perfect union, the writing duo of director Zal Batmanglij and his hypnotic on screen muse, Brit Marling, return to the big screen with their second collaboration, The East, an excellent political thriller that riles with the ideologies of environmental extremism while building upon the cultist culture that they explored in their mercurial debut, Sound of My Voice. This time bearing the budget of a modest Hollywood production and a cast that boasts names like Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page, their sophomore feature feels like the work of a major studio, a slick, highly commercial production that surprisingly refuses to compromise its morals. Taking us headlong into the controversial underworld of so called ‘eco-terrorists’ through an undercover agent who’s allegiance becomes blurred, The East sees Batmanglij making the leap from indie darling to major league filmmaker without sacrificing auteuristic assurance.

Unsurprisingly, Marling takes the lead as Sarah, a wicked smart young agent under contract by an independent intelligence agency, playing her with straight-laced confidence, free of the spaced out despondency we’ve repeatedly seen from her prior. Going incognito, her mission is to find and identity the members of an environmental extremist group, mysteriously dubbed, The East. Through a series of convenient coincidences, exquisitely tense suspicions and eerily conceived initiations, Sarah winds up falling in with the group, who’s membership includes the rapturous radical Izzi (Page), a flaky gender-bender in Luca (Shiloh Fernandez), Doc (Toby Kebbell), the brains and heart of the group, and Benji (Skarsgård), the grizzled leader, among others. Operating with the routines of a cult and the ideals of the Earth Liberation Front, the group devises and executes a series of ‘jams’ that threaten to publicly expose the havoc reeked by irresponsible corporations while personally attacking the figure heads that lead the cover-ups, and it isn’t long before Sarah finds herself under the spell of her vehement cohorts, seriously contemplating the legitimacy of The East’s extreme enterprises.

Their targets are the likes of pharmaceutical giants and water tainting megacorps, worthy foes for any activists, but what makes them alluring adversaries here is that there is history within. Instead of relying on merely the political attraction, Marling and Batmanglij give us characters directly effected by these corporate leviathans. Where we would normally question the devious actions of extremists, we instead find ourselves actively rooting for them. This narrative tactic is utilized to empathetic effect several times over, but never so prevalent as when we learn of Doc’s misfortunes in taking a poorly tested, still approved medication that left him battling an assortment of crippling physical ailments. So, when the group attempts to serve the purveyors of the drug a taste of their own medicine, it isn’t hard to see why Sarah might feel for the cause.

With a considerable cast and ever prevalent human rights ethos, one might expect a bit of frivolity when it comes to characters, but just about everyone still finds their time in the sun. Just as Doc is fleshed out, Benji and Izzi receive similar authorial treatment played with resolute conviction, giving each of them depth where one might expect cardboard radicals. Sarah on the other hand is a character placed firmly in the moment, essentially a history-less vehicle for our own internal conflict. Through her double sided manner of appearance, her briefly revealed love life back home and slowly shifting appreciation for The East’s philosophies, Marling wraps us into her own struggle to retain allegiance to both country and the people who unfortunately entrusted their safety within its borders. By fully embracing this stratagem though, the film reveals its weakness. Sarah has little underlying motivation besides her own need for professional perfection and general humanitarianistic empathy. This is but a minor flaw that mostly works to the betterment of the story overall.

Spring-boarding off of its buzzy Sundance premier, The East should see Batmanglij and Marling making major waves posthaste. A strong-willed film that would make for an interesting double feature paired with the eco-terror doc If A Tree Falls, their sophomore feature is a politically propelled, morally complex work that wields the popcorn appeal of a summertime thriller, nimbly written and perfectly paced. One of those rare films that brings fringe affairs to the fore through broadly entertaining engagement, The East is a fiery, enthralling work of political fiction and a meteoric flare of hope for the future of mainstream cinema.

Reviewed on January 29rd at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival – US DRAMATIC COMPETITION Programme. 116 Min

Based out of the film deprived rust belt of Buffalo, NY, Jordan M. Smith is a film critic/journalist for IONCINEMA.com and has been making the rounds at Sundance, TIFF, and Hot Docs. When he's not gazing at the glow of a big screen, he's teaching as a tech librarian. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: P.T. Anderson (There Will Be Blood), W. Anderson (The Life Aquatic), Assayas (Carlos), Almodóvar (Broken Embraces), Coen Bros. (No Country For Old Men), Gibney (We Steal Secrets), Herzog (Grizzly Man), Kar-wai (Chungking Express), Kiarostami (Certified Copy), Malick (The Tree of Life), Morris (The Wog of War), Ross Bros. (Tchoupitoulas)
  • Gail

    The reality is:

    1. There is an antibiotic causing the exact symptoms portrayed in the film, they are called Fluoroquinolones.

    2. If you listen to the news caster in the movie you will hear the name Fluoroquinolones, and how it was used during the Gulf War to vaccinate our troops against Anthrax – the “Gulf War Syndrome” the soldiers suffer from is actually the adverse reactions to the Fluoroquinolone vaccination used, Cipro.

    3. Bayer, along with Johnson & Johnson, and the FDA, are all fully aware of how thousands of people have been stricken by the serious adverse reactions to Fluoroquinolones. The three most common prescribed are Avelox, Cipro, and Levaquin – but even with the profits in the billions from the sale of these medications, not one dime has been spent by any of them to research why is it happening, how to reverse, or repair the damage it has caused to the thousands of patients who trusted that the medication they were taking was safe.

    It’s obvious to those who suffer from Fluoroquinolone Toxicity Syndrome that the makers of this film did their research prior to making the film, and were spot on in their portrayal of the symptoms of the adverse effects of this antibiotic. This is a classic “Truth is stranger than Fiction” when it come to Fluoroquinolones. The pharmaceutical companies want the world to believe these reactions are rare, when they are not. It has been estimated that 1 out of 10 people will have some type of reaction to these antibiotics ranging from mild to severe. The pharmaceutical companies are willing to let the “few” suffer for the “greater good.” Most people know and understand the risk of tendon damage and rupture from Fluoroquinolones, because the pharmaceutical companies were forced to place a warning on the antibiotics – FORCED being the operative word here. They are NOT going to acknowledge any other reaction they are not forced to do. The scariest part of the whole movie – what does it tell you when Hollywood “gets it” before the FDA does?

    In your review you state, “The group’s first action is premised on the idea that a pharmaceutical has already made billions off a medicine that regularly causes crippling brain damage after just one dose, without being pulled off the market — when there are plenty of more plausible, less hyperbolic plot devices that wouldn’t have taken the film so far from reality.” The reality is: 1. There is an antibiotic causing the exact symptoms portrayed in the film, they are called Fluoroquinolones. 2. If you listen to the news caster in the movie you will hear the name Fluoroquinolones, and how it was used during the Gulf War to vaccinate our troops against Anthrax – the “Gulf War Syndrome” the soldiers suffer from is actually the adverse reactions to the Fluoroquinolone vaccination used, Cipro. 3. The pharmaceutical companies , and the FDA, are all fully aware of how thousands of people have been stricken by the serious adverse reactions to Fluoroquinolones. The three most common prescribed are Avelox, Cipro, and Levaquin – but even with the profits in the billions from the sale of these medications, not one dime has been spent by any of them to research why is it happening, how to reverse, or repair the damage it has caused to the thousands of patients who trusted that the medication they were taking was safe. It’s obvious to those who suffer from Fluoroquinolone Toxicity Syndrome that the makers of this film did their research prior to making the film, and were spot on in their portrayal of the symptoms of the adverse effects of this antibiotic. This is a classic “Truth is stranger than Fiction” when it come to Fluoroquinolones. The pharmaceutical companies want the world to believe these reactions are rare, when they are not. It has been estimated that 1 out of 10 people will have some type of reaction to these antibiotics ranging from mild to severe. The pharmaceutical companies are willing to let the “few” suffer for the “greater good.” Most people know and understand the risk of tendon damage and rupture from Fluoroquinolones, because the pharmaceutical companies were forced to place a warning on the antibiotics – FORCED being the operative word here. They are NOT going to acknowledge any other reaction they are not forced to do. The scariest part of the whole movie – what does it tell you when Hollywood “gets it” before the FDA does?