The East, written by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, is a morally complex thriller that follows a dedicated former FBI agent, Sarah Moss (Marling), as she infiltrates an anarchist collective of eco-terrorists known as The East. Predictably, Sarah’s mission to gain intelligence on the group on behalf of her firm, Hiller Brood, becomes complicated when she grows close to impassioned members of the group. Sarah slowly begins to feel torn between her dual identities, especially when she falls for The East’s captivating leader (Alexander Skarsgård).

Marling’s third attempt at pulling double duty as screenwriter and lead actress effectively showcases her reputation as a talent to watch for on the big screen (previous efforts include Sound of My Voice and Another Earth). Marling puts forth an adequate effort to carry the film, even if I did find myself wondering how much stronger the movie would be in the hands of a more seasoned and capable actress.

While occasionally wooden and bland, Marling effectively communicates her character’s internal struggle about her double life and the impact the group has on her formerly- assured sense of self. However, the script and Batmanglij’s direction are the real stars of the film. Their second collaboration together produces an engrossing and thought-provoking thriller that lingers with you far beyond the credits. It handles heavy questions with great restraint and objectivity, refusing to take a moral stance about which side we should be rooting for. Rather, it focuses on the complicated motivations of its characters and advances the idea that humans are morally dubious individuals.

Though the dialogue between the members of the commune occasionally veers on cringe-worthy, Marling and Batmanglij’s script produces enough plot twists to keep the audience thoroughly engaged with the film. While The East is not without its very apparent flaws, Marling proves herself to be an exciting new talent as an intelligent and provocative storyteller.

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