SXSW FILM 2013
By Don Simpson | March 20, 2013
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Writers: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Aldis Hodge, Danielle Macdonald, Hillary Baack, Patricia Clarkson, Jason Ritter, Julia Ormond, Billy Magnussen, Wilbur Fitzgerald, John Neisler, Jamey Sheridan, Pamela Roylance
Sure, I will gladly admit that Sound of My Voice and The East are both technically sound films. The cinematography, editing and acting are all damn near perfect. Really, it is just the plot and the politics of both films that drive me bat-shit crazy. First of all, The East really annoys me because it basically just takes the narrative formula of Sound of My Voice and adapts it from a religious cult to an environmental cult. That right there just reads as L-A-Z-Y from my perspective. I was successful with Sound of My Voice, so I will just make the same film over again… Right… Try again, buster. Writer-director Zal Batmanglij also seems intent upon making films that are as apolitical and inoffensive as possible. That is what really gets my goat because taking on religious and environmental cults and not taking sides just reads as “chickenshit conformist” in my book. Both of these films deserve an opinion, at least from my humble perspective.
With The East, Batmanglij presents us with a “far left” environmental activist group led by Benji (Alexander Skarsgård). Sarah (Brit Marling) is a government operative who goes undercover to immerse herself in the collective. Of course, once Sarah becomes one of them, she sees their side of the story. She may not agree with their anarchistic acts of violence, but she does agree on their politics. More importantly, Sarah falls in love (or, at least, in like) with Benji, despite leaving a lover (Jason Ritter) behind back in the real world. Sure, her boss (Patricia Clarkson) realizes just how attached and immersed Sarah has become, but she considers that to be all part of the job.
I don’t know… I just don’t get it. Sure, the performances (especially Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgård) are top notch; and, yes, this is a great looking film. The plot just feels way too slight and pandering, in my humbly politicized opinion. Sure, The East sheds some light upon some real environmental catastrophes, but it also just writes them off as some left-wing-nut conspiracy theories. Why is Batmanglij so damn scared to have an opinion?