The East Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page. Directed by Zal Batmanglij. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
In many ways, The East is a larger-scale, bigger-budget version of director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij and co-writer/star Brit Marling’s first feature, last year’s excellent Sound of My Voice. Both movies involve outsiders infiltrating close-knit, cult-like groups presided over by charismatic leaders, and both focus on their lead characters’ internal conflict. In Sound of My Voice, it was a pair of documentary filmmakers joining the followers of a self-proclaimed time traveler; in The East, a corporate spy (Marling) goes undercover in the titular group of radical eco-terrorists. One of Sound of My Voice’s greatest strengths was its otherworldly uncertainty, but by taking on real-life political issues, Batmanglij and Marling have a harder time remaining ambiguous. The political content ends up being a little simplistic, but the characters are well-drawn, and the movie has a haunting atmosphere that carries it past some rough plotting. It might be a bigger movie, but its best moments are still small.