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Sundance Review Roundup: Batmanglij and Marling's 'The East' Dividing Critics

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood January 22, 2013 at 11:56AM

Critics are divided on director Zal Batmanglij ("The Sound of My Voice") and co-writer-star Brit Marling's newest collaboration, "The East." While some find the film a relevant, absorbing eco-terrorist thriller, others deem it overlong and "deeply silly." Review highlights below.
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Marling, Skarsgard in 'The East'
Marling, Skarsgard in 'The East'

Critics are divided on director Zal Batmanglij ("The Sound of My Voice") and co-writer-star Brit Marling's newest collaboration, "The East." While some find the film a relevant, absorbing eco-terrorist thriller, others deem it overlong and "deeply silly." Review highlights below.

Check out the film's trailer here.

For reference, here's the film's plot, via the Sundance program notes:

Someone is attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to consume harmful products they manufacture. An elite private intelligence firm is called into action and contracts ex-FBI agent Sarah Moss to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist collective, The East, suspected to be responsible. Skilled, focused, and bent on success, Sarah goes undercover and dedicates herself to taking down the organization. She soon finds, however, that the closer she gets to the action, the more she sympathizes with the group’s charismatic leaders.

[In addition to Brit Marling, the film features a] supporting cast, including Patricia Clarkson, Ellen Page, and Alexander Skarsgård,

The Hollywood Reporter:

A social-conscience espionage film that has actually thought about its "eco-terrorism" themes beyond figuring out how to mine them for suspense, The East sends a straight-laced overachiever undercover with a violent eco-vigilante group. Zal Batmanglij and cowriter/star Brit Marling deliver a consistently tense, morally alert story that has plenty of box-office appeal.

Twitch:

There's no doubt that talented filmmakers like Batmanglij and Marling have a bright future in Hollywood. Their world is rich, characters interesting, and writing/acting/directing skills show plenty of promise. Unfortunately, The East just seems to suffer from some growing pains. There are some cool ideas here and it's pretty damned entertaining for a studio action-thriller, however, it's definitely no Sound of My Voice.

The Playlist:

At nearly two hours, the film is just slightly overlong and can be deeply silly at times, but nonetheless thoroughly entertaining. Some of the dialogue feels a bit on the nose while the self-seriousness makes some of the more melodramatic turns seem ridiculous.

This article is related to: Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling, The East


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.