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« Posterized: Disney/Pixar | Main | i ♥ glowing eyes »
Saturday
Jun222013

"The East," Or, What Do We Think of Brit Marling? Alexander Skarsgård?

Please allow me to catch up. The following double feature is "old" news by internet standards but since I am valiantly trying to say at least something about everything I see, it won't always be instantaneous. I know that in my role as a well known film blogger of Oscar leanings, I'm supposed to embrace my role as Opinion Maker rather than point out the fluid mutating nature of opinions. But, here's a little secret about me (and I suspect most critics): I don't always have a clearcut opinion. Which is where you come in to today. Here are two blondes I've been staring at intensely lately: Alexander Skarsgård & Brit Marling. They are also busy staring intensely at each other in the eco-terrorism thriller The East. 

Help me solidify my vague opinion of them after the jump!

they're done staring. they've moved on to kissing

THE EAST
This thriller hitches a ride with an undercover FBI agent (Brit Marling) as she infiltrates an eco-terrorist cult of sorts. The collective is led by (Skarsgård) and (Ellen Page) who both hold secrets. The group preys on CEOs of bio oil and big pharma and gives them a taste of their own medicine in various quite upsetting ways (like the super-creepy opening sequence in which oil begins to seep through the walls of a CEO's house like a residential oil spill. Page explains their righteous crimes in voiceover with creepy missionary zeal.

Though The East isn't always surprising as it plays with expected suspense and political thriller tropes, it is always engrossing which is more than most films can say. I was with it right from its opening scene up until the frankly terrible flash-forward style ending which gets cold feet about the previously hopeless nihilism and fascinating moral thickets.  

The ensemble work is quite strong across the board but I admit that I didn't know quite what to make of the blonde charisma (gap?) collision between Skarsgård, who as in True Blood, is both unbearably sexy and weirdly docile considering all the bite in his bark, and Marling. Does the actor coast on his beauty and disarming ability of looking through people or is he just naturally drawn to roles where his beauty is essential? As for his scene partner, I fully admit that I don't know what to make of Brit Marling. At times she strikes me as lost sibling of the Gummers, the one with personality. I haven't seen her in many pictures but I'll admit I thought she was a wash in Arbitrage. There's a certain blank slate emptiness to her face that suggests that anything could be projected on to it (acting bonus points!) which makes her a natural for the subject of cults (a subject her writer/director is clearly drawn to since she also played muse for him in his earlier cult-themed  feature The Sound of My Voice). But othertimes the emptiness is just that, and frustratingly opaque. But it's interesting to see her working through the possibilities of this character who doesn't totally resist the allure of the identity-dissolve and hive mind required of cult members.

I'm interested to see more even if I'm not sure what it is that I've already seen. Are you? 

Grade: B
Best in Show: In miniature I have to bow down to our beloved Patricia Clarkson for two perfect moments: first the spiky cocktail she mixes in her introduction, sweet co-conspiratorial charm with a splash of condescension; second, and most impactfully, a hair-raising moment when Marling phones her from a Big Pharma dinner party with truly horrific news. I won't spoil the surprise but damn did Patty ever nail that key scene.
Oscar Chances: The East is probably not high enough profile to earn traction for its screenplay. True out of nowhere sleepers, the kind that build momentum all on their own without "pedigree", are so rare nowadays but historically speaking their best shots are usually in something like Screenplay. But this sure is a strong mainstream calling card for its writer/director Zal Batmanglij. (He has "Batman" right there in his name so he's already won, regardless.)

Oh, and also, for a little more Skarsgård let's chat about... WHAT MAISIE KNEW which I actually saw on the same day. In both cases I had forgotten that Skarsgård was in it, mostly because I wasn't paying attention and not from any lack of interest in the Swede's career.

What Maisie Knew is an modern reworking of Henry James' novel about the bright child of two very irresponsible parents Beale and Ida. Maisie (Onata Aprile) is initally caught up in their custody battle but as it wears on they both essentially abandon her, trusting that their significant others will do their parenting for them. Beale (Steve Coogan) still marries the young governess (Joanna Vanderham) who already loves Maisie through her day job of caring for her. But with the modernization Ida is now Susanna (Julianne Moore) a rock star and her new husband Sir Claude has become a paid younger lover Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård), essentially a kept boy, and a manny (though the doesn't at first grasp this complicated and demeaning role).

This performance of Skarsgård's reminded me a bit of his work in Melancholia. In both he plays a handsome but somewhat dim naturally loving man who can't grasp the depth of neurosis and cruelty of the woman he's tied to. I think he's an underrated actor but I confess I'm not entirely sure... is it how goddamn beautiful he is clouding my vision or is my hesitation that he keeps playing either charismatic mysterious characters (which you can get away with not fully three dimensionalizing) when he's not playing these sensitive and dim but loveable cuckolds who I can't help but feel for. I wonder if he isn't shading them enough (Lincoln is practically a saint) but then I fall for him each time anyway.

But back to the movie. The sensitive beauty and pain of What Maisie Knew is watching the complicated ripples from Beale and Susana's horrid behavior and how it wounds the daughter and traps the younger more naturally caregiving lovers into parenting roles that are free of biological ties, real future, and legal rights. One senses that it can't end well for any of these people, though the movie does sensibly end with a bittersweet reprieve from the pain in its final moments.  I was definitely less than dry-eyed at key moments, The emotions came mostly thanks to the content of the story and the well-judged handling of the innate compassion but 'this isn't really my life' confusion of Lincoln and Margo who are in way over their heads and hearts.

Grade: B/B-
Best in Show: Onata Aprile hands down. The best child performance since... well, since Qu'venzhane Wallis (which, true, wasn't long ago but it's still a major compliment). Aprile never feels like she's A-C-T-I-N-G though it's not actually a simple role as she's passed continually from adult to adult and you can feel her always trying to get her bearings in the way a bright easygoing but ultimately lonely child might.
Oscar Chances: Too modest and small for that... though I do wonder what co-directors Scott McGehee & David Siegel would have to do to recapture the arthouse acclaim and Oscar momentum they arguably built with The Deep End (2001) years ago. As for the Oscar darling in the cast I can't say that I ever fully bought my beloved goddess as a rock star (sorry Juli!) and I do so wish someone would let her play a Good Mommy for once. This is Terrible Mommy #10 or something!

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Reader Comments (36)

You should watch "Generation Kill" to rid yourself of confusion.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen

regarding whom?

June 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Skarsgård, he's one of the leads. It's a criminally underseen miniseries from HBO.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Oh, yeah, he's excellent in Generation Kill. Pretty much playing the male version of a classic Ice Queen female role. But with some serious dark humor. Stark Sands is great as well, playing a bit of a foil to him. In fact, that ensemble is uniformly excellent.

And I like Brit Marling too but I have next to zero interest in The East, if I'm being totally honest. But good for her for being completely in control of her own young career. She hasn't struck gold yet for me (Another Earth was messy) but I can do nothing but admire someone who just goes out there and creates their own interesting opportunities.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Random trivia - Zal Batmanglij's mom is the writer of the single greatest book on Iranian cooking. It's so good, even I can cook if I follow it word by word.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Yep, I agree. That mini-series was pretty good. Plus it had an undeniable homoerotic touch and James Ransone was also in it.

Bad-mommy equals no Oscar, right?

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I second the Generation Kill suggestion. He's great in it and it's a fantastic miniseries, which is a lot from me since I don't particularly care for war movies.

I haven't seen the East yet but I really liked Brit Marling in Another Earth, and I admire what she does. I'll need watch more of her to form a full opinion though....

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbia

I third (fourth? Fifth?) the Generation Kill suggestion.That's the best depiction of the Iraq War so far (and waaaaaaay better than claptrap like The Hurt Locker).

He's also really good in "Disconnect" which was out a couple months ago. It's not his fault he's so pretty.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhizzous

hizzous -- isn't it? ;)

Mark -- agreed on creating your own opportunities. I admire that so much in people

June 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Brit Marling as a lost Gummer (or the most successful daughter to date) is spot on. She did a music video with Henry Gummer, so she must have some real or psychic connection to the Legend. I like that she seems invested in her work and she is oddly mesmerizing.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDevon

Brit Marling is a natural actress with Oscar potential. She has a captivating screen presence and is very believable in her roles. She's been compared to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Jessica Chastain. Given the lead in a major film, she'd knock your socks off.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

I'm all in behind Brit Marling. While it's true she's a bit snoozy in Arbitrage, so is everything about that movie. If you haven't seen Another Earth or Sound of My Voice, do yourself a favor. She gives two wildly different performances in two wildly different movies both of which she wrote!

In the meantime, I'm trying to decide if Skarsgard alone is worth starting this season of True Blood. Why else would I?

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrady

Can't take my eyes of off Brit Marling when she is in a film. She was mesmerizing in Sound of My Voice and has a great range in her acting abilities. I loved the scene in Arbitrage where she argued with Gere who played her father (while playing the devoted daughter in other scenes). One critic wrote of her "she can hold her own among the most seasoned of actors."

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Related to Amir's trivia: Zal Batmanglij is the brother of Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij. They should collaborate on something.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

@Raul they did collabroate already, sort of. Rostam did all the music for Sound of My Voice and wrote a piano song featured in The East

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen

It's safe to conclude that we have yet to see Marling at her best. But she's still a talent in development. Her roles are very predictable but she shows her talent in a bit in each typical roles. Another Earth definitely shows the promise of her talent.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergbocampo

The brilliance of Marling's acting lies in its understated, subtle quality. She does not have to prove anything; she has that rare gift. As an aside, I loved one reviewer's description of the Marling/Skarsgard chemistry in The East as "Blonde on Blonde." Anyway, saw the movie--thought it was great: original, suspenseful, "never-a-dull-moment" spy thriller and Brit's on-screen persona is so powerful, you can feel it in every scene. And, let me add, what an intense feeling that persona brings to The East, as it will to any other film she has a major role in.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

Discussion Thread: What would happen if Greta Gerwig wrote a screenplay with Brit Marling in the lead role? Marling Ha!

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I absolutely adore Brit Marling. I've interviewed her twice, and there are not enough young people like her who are actually interested in truly provocative, meaningful, and human ideas. Though I don't think her movies are perfect (The East is very good, but Another Earth and Sound of My Voice are both quite problematic, unable to keep up with their own conceits), people like her and Zal are the antidote to my soul-crushing generation of Everything Irony. I found much to love in Frances Ha, and it's about time someone made something truly classy and evocative in response to millennial angst, but critic Josh Rothkopf made a great point in TONY that if there were any justice, Brit, and not Greta Gerwig (or Lena Dunham, for that matter) would be "the new fringe-friendly It Girl." If you've not seen it, you MUST watch this convocation speech from Brit at her alma mater, Georgetown. It's outstanding:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgfuzhWM5hA

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

Additionally, I did not think there was anything remotely "snoozy" about Brit's performance in Arbitrage. She was utterly commanding and indelible with very little screen time, and I might go so far as to say it's her best performance to date. It was certainly one of the best Supporting Actress performances in a year that was rich with great ones.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

Marling exudes that fascinating persona that inspires questions ranging from "Who is Hollywood's hottest new blonde bombshell dating?" to "Would Marling consider running for political office?" Although she's described as the undisputed queen of the indies, I'd love to see her in the major leagues, with a home run winning her well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress, Hollywood, you don't see many Brit Marling's; grab her while you've got the chance!

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScout

I have a daughter, now 13, who has always aspired to become an actress. Her role models? Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, Paris Hillton and the other lowlifes who have made a career out of sensationalism. Brit Marling is a role model for young girls who want to enter the industry. She was class valedictorian, not only in high school but her college Georgetown University, as well. She turned down a lucrative position with Goldman Sachs to become an actress, not via sleazy reality tv shows or "caught having sex" videos, but through hard work, integrity, talent, brains, creativity and beauty. Marling is one of the rare stars of old like Barbara Stanwyck or Katharine Hepburn (yes, she has that potential but needs the right role to show it). Although many of her movies are R rated, I have permitted my daughter to view them over the trashy, block buster movies aimed at children and tweens. As a result, she has become more committed to education, film study, and getting her college degree before deciding on "going Hollywood." She just tested into a gifted school and Marling has been a huge inspiration in her life. Parents, please go to imdb or some other site to read about Marling's rise to stardom. Brit, please realize you are a role model and begin speaking to kids at an early age letting them know that a career in acting does not have to be at the expense of their bodies or souls.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

@Kurtis O, I absolutely agree with you. Brit gave a magnificent performance with the "hand she was dealt." You probably noticed that Susan Sarandon had relatively little screen time as well. I understand Gere was instrumental in having the roles cut short or "meekened" as this was his chance for an Oscar nomination. Why take the chance of someone stealing your thunder?!

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterinside

Marling's at her best when she's writing her own material. She's not good with other people's words. Another Earth, Sound of My Voice, and The East mark her as one of the strongest new voices in weird cinema.

I wound up with the same feelings about The East and would take it a step further. I did not believe that Skarsgard's character had any interest in Marling's character. I'm willing to give Marling/Batmanglij the benefit of the doubt and assume Skarsgard was instructed to pierce through Marling to add tension to the film. The romance stuff pulled me out every time it bubbled up and ESPECIALLY when it involved Ellen Page.

My issue with the ending wasn't the time skip but the direct (and I mean direct) parallel to the staging of the end of Sound of My Voice and Another Earth. Marling is too green as a screenwriter to already recycle endings. She's too clever a writer to do that, too.

Can we talk about Ellen Page playing against type for once? Fantastic work in a thankless role that proves she's more than just quirky intellectual hipster girl. Clarkson also found new ground in a more familiar role.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Ellen wasn't playing against type at all. Most of what she did was as the scary/bitchy girl before Juno came along.

And why do I feel like the same person wrote like 5 of the above comments attributed to different people?

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Uh, boy do I feel dumb. I just got back from seeing The East which I thought was so great I wanted to post a 5-star review and add what a talented hunk Skarsgard was in the film. Now, I am reading the praises of Brit Marling, an actress I have not heard of before the film. Although, I must admit I took immediate notice of the female lead thinking she was such a great actress, why had I never seen her before. Okay, okay, I will look her up and see her other stuff.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMariaC

Moore was a Good Mommy in Crazy Stupid Love, The Kids Are All Right, and Game Change.

June 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercinephile

Jen: Regarding Ellen Page, it's more that's she's playing a human being and not a SAT-word spewing robot and/or sociopath for once. She gets to show off genuine emotion. She also goes from extremely guarded to very open and expressive, which is the opposite of her typical character arc post-Juno. Her gift is making dense dialogue sound natural and writers/directors take advantage of that to the detriment of her performance. She sounded human again in The East. I haven't heard that from her since Hard Candy.

I'm aware that quite a few of those post-Juno roles were filmed before Juno, but things like The Tracey Fragments were given a better release afterwards because of Juno. It became a cycle of Ellen Page in tough girl with dense sentence structure fights against the world. Most of her performance in The East is actually reacting to other human beings in a meaningful rather than superficial or high concept way. That's a change, too.

June 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Brit Marling I think has this riveting quality to her, i couldn't stop thinking of her days after watching Sound of my Voice, as for her career I think how she's handling it, taking control of it, is just incredibly smart. She is writing her own roles with her boyfriend and I think she has a great collaboration going on there, as well as with Mike Cahill which they co-directed Boxers and Ballerinas which is highly recommended as well as writing Another Earth.

June 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjjablo

I haven't been blown away by anything Brit Marling has done yet, but I am impressed at the initiative she's shown in creating roles for herself instead of skating by on her looks. It's refreshing to see an actress wielding that kind of power over her career.

If you haven't seen Another Earth yet, you should check it out. That film really surprised me a few years ago and Marling's blank slate routine works pretty well for her character.

June 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

Thinking of seeing The East tonight so I'm looking for reviews. I love to see the early works of artists who eventually become really big like Christopher Nolan. Recently watched his first feature, Following, a low-budget black and white UK film he wrote and directed. I've come across some pretty good reviews from critics predicting the Batmanglij/Marling duo can make films on the level of Ben Affleck and George Clooney. Another critic said Batmanglij's early works hint he may be the future Nolan. Curious. Anyone seen Following and would like to comment?

June 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShell

Wow! The East successfully merges mainstream thrills with art house depth. Original. Marling, Skarsgard, Page, Clarkson rock this roller coaster ride.

June 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter4601robsud

I love Brit Marling. She's Hitchcock's cool blonde, elegant, aristocratic and pedigreed as Brooke Miller in Arbitrage (many critics likened her character to Ivanka Trump); she's a manipulative Svengali as Maggie in Sound of My Voice; she shows great depth and can communicate a wide range of emotions without uttering a word (qualities found in Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) as the wistful, soul searching Rhoda in Another Earth. But I liked her best in The East in a rougher, grittier, more edgy role and would like to see her play more aggressive female leads in the future.

June 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbritfan

@Britfan: couldn't agree more with your assessment of Marling's performance in Another Earth. What a compelling star turn she gave.

July 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

Honestly, I am a conservative and I thought the movie to be very good. The socio-economic background of the activists does not make them "brats." The point was, that they were seriously injured by the immoral, unethical, and (though un-enforced) illegal activities of their own parents, friends, and peers. That can be true no matter what background you come from. If a person is too bias or shallow, I would recommend watching the movie twice, simply to try and "get it." Even though those activists had "issues" they aspired to a better "way" after seeing "what America has become" The movie had a bit of balance, fullness and completeness to it, even showing disagreements between activist members as "not becoming corrupt" by using "corrupt means." Though, I found myself wondering if the activists suffered from the same problem in discernment and morality held by the protagonist in the movie 1984. That is how one tyrant simply replaces another. The only other thing that I found disappointing was the idea that the "news media" and "government regulators" would all of a sudden turn on the socialist government politician's interests and state capitalist elite who own, control, and pay them them. As an example, do you think the media will ever tell the truth about what Obama has done in the middle-east, especially Libya in conjunction with Syria? If it hurts Obama's Socialist direction, it does not get reported. Another example might be the time when the Xylene plant blew up in Pittsburgh. GE owned the major media stations there, an they hushed it up. However, you can not hide fighters coming into the ER for toxic exposure in huge numbers, and they talked about how GE did not have the chemical firefighting equipment on hand that they were supposed to have by law. Instead, equipment had to be lent from Allegheny National Airport. I have seen corruption even worse in my lifetime, though I will never be able to teach about it because people un-pc like me and without wealthy leftist connections do not get hired by educational institutions. So, how much money do you think Soros pumped into those phoney OWS protests simply to try and counter the gaggle - cluster of undefined Tea Party Protests? OWS died just like Leftist Talk Radio. Well, Radio Free Talk from New Hampshire being the exception. Maybe someone will come up with a movie that shows examples of the NSA and other XYZPDQ organs of the federal government work with state and locals to keep us under thumb. National ID cards, drones over head, pat downs, and no privacy are likely just the beginning. God help you if you oppose what anyone in any level government and big business wants. Here in Norfolk, they simply take your property and tell you to shut up, and that is the City Council working with ODU and a few very wealthy businesspeople. The point of the movie, "What goes around, comes around" or "You do it to yourselves." I hope the young of the most corrupt people who are hurting others in America turn and right wrongs committed by their parents, but in this country placated by pop and corrupted by money and power, they are more likely to be like Oodae and Kusae. So, I am not holding my breath for the JL's "Imagine." Welcome to the Cleptocracy, may your movie make things better before your become a self centered self serving deluded movie star.

September 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhdcandela

Minor correction: Marling's character Jane is not an FBI agent. She is a *former* FBI agent who now works for a private corporation that infiltrates terrorist groups and undermines them. Patricia Clarkson's character made it clear that they are a for-profit organization that actively recruits corporate clients.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShaoLin Kitten

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