The East, a thriller co-written by Brit Marling, who stars, and Zal Batmanglu, who directs, features a Svengali type character played to mesmerizing perfection by Alexander Skarsgard. At the film's New York premiere party at Hotel Chantelle's Rooftop on Monday, the actor who has no doubt honed his skills at fixing you in his gaze in the HBO series True Blood, seemed far from the low key cool he exuded so well in the recent What Maisie Knew, and had more of his Disconnect intensity. As Benji, leader of an anarchist group called The East, determined to make corporations pay for the damage they do to the environment, and to anyone in their path to profits, Skarsgard knows how to charm. To get back at an oil company known to have polluted waters endangering and killing wildlife, the group that also includes Ellen Page as "Isabella Duncan," pumps oil into its CEO's country mansion, coating it with slime. An eye for an eye. You may have had these revenge fantasies yourself.
The cast also includes Patricia Clarkson as Brit Marling's boss at a private intelligence firm. Clarkson, so good leading the cast in Cairo Time, brings an elegant sophistication to this role--think of M to James Bond. We see her fly off in a helicopter, a symbol of her power, wearing an off one shoulder evening gown, her blond hair perfectly coiffed, representing the amorality of society functioning as usual; her duties to suppress The East's activities override any kind of empathy for their cause. Marling's "Jane" is at first simply a younger version sent into the field to infiltrate. Naturally, her character represents the moral core of the movie, and while she as "Sarah" bonds with counter-culture-ists Benji and Izzie, her solutions offer a less extreme middle ground.
Perhaps most surprising as a premise, the movie provides a vision of what sensitive young people fear about the culture's disregard of environmental and humane concerns. Marling, recently seen in Arbitrage and in The Company You Keep as daughters to Richard Gere and Robert Redford respectively, said she spent 2009 following freegans dumpster diving for discarded food that still has value. It's hard to imagine this fine young actress, clearly someone who has a great career ahead, on a diet that might inspire germ phobia. As Jane, she forages through the company trash for a half eaten apple, chomping with relish.
For Ellen Page too, the film's philosophy hits close. Known for starring in Juno, Contagion, X-Men, and To Rome with Love, she has also appeared in the 2010 documentary Time for Change, representing an alternative to apocalyptic doom.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.