Eco-Terrorist look to avenge the defenseless while we watch a generic lead infiltrate them.
Review (with Spoilers)
Being that I’ve been a fan of Ellen Page since Hard Candy, I had to see this film. The 1st trailer was intriguing and even for those who aren’t Ellen Page fans, there was Alexander Skarsgard of True Blood fame; Aldis Hodge, who has a very small role, who you may know from Leverage; and Patricia Clarkson who has probably been in a supporting role of at least one movie you like. For me, it’s Easy A.
In terms of characters, the lead role belongs to Brit Marling, who plays Sarah. The character itself is an agent for a firm ran by Sharon (played by Patricia Clarkson), and it is hard to really define Sarah since she plays a role as an agent for most of the film, and you never get to meet who she is off the job really. On the other hand, we also have Skarsgard’s Benji who is a cult leader and his second-in-command Izzy (played by Ellen Page). Someone who seems very much like a militant Occupy Wall Street protester, filled with passion and vigor, but has been led astray due to the charm of Benji and the reasoning behind his cause.
And with that said, let’s talk about story. The majority of the story deals with Marling’s character infiltrating “The East,” on behalf of the interest of Heller|Brood’s client, in order to protect said client from the slander “The East” posts and their attacks. During this period, we watch Sarah make a journey which makes her seem almost like a journalist more than a spy or agent. To me, watching Sarah, who comes off a little arrogant, but generic, is like watching a slightly raw piece of clay get molded by each person or group she interacts with. She first gets molded by Sharon, since she sees some of herself in Sarah, and then by Benji. This makes it so that Sarah’s journey seemingly is to represent those oblivious to what “The East” group is trying to bring to attention. The idea, to me, is that anyone of us could be a Sarah and would perhaps understand why groups like “The East” do what they do, if we only spent some time maybe with them.
That last line, the idea that if we didn’t quickly damn people we consider terrorist without trying to understand their motive, as twisted as it sounds, is sort of the main appeal of the movie. For this movie, it is hard at times to really label someone a hero or villain. You can see some lean more toward one or the other, but they never have both feet planted on one side. “The East” for example would easily be considered evil and rash if they were a real group, but watching their way of life and us seeing how each character justifies each terrorist act, sort of reminds you that though there are some groups which are just violent and void of humanity, there are also those which are trying to wake people up and show the pain some cause and try to stuff into the closet to never be seen.
As for the issues, most of them deal with a few selected characters and their relationships to one another. Starting off, throughout the film you are left wondering how Benji manipulated these socially maladjusted people and made them almost dependent on what he can seemingly offer? I mean, though quite a few characters seem barely above extras, the ones that do get enough screen time to define themselves seem to have a strong educational background. There is a doctor, a computer hacker, someone formerly of the military and somehow Benji has found a way to have them leave their lives, even if temporary, for this vegan, ultra-violent PETA styled eco-terrorist group. Add onto that issue, setting aside what brought them together, you are unsure what keeps them together? One idea would be that a good portion of them are charmed by Benji like he is a cult leader, but that is questionable. Then, you wonder, how is it there seems to be so many issues in the group, especially after attacks, why everyone stays, much less comes back since they go on small breaks after each attack? One of the biggest issues in the movie though is Sarah. With her infiltration into “The East,” she makes it seem like these possibly brilliant people have no common sense. The girl comes from nowhere, doesn’t really accept their ideology and way of life, interferes during the attacks, is moderately secretive, and yet she is allowed to be involved.
Overall: On the Fence
Honestly, with the film being nearly two hours and the political message not strong enough to sway you and the movie as a whole not shocking or entertaining enough to really hold you, it is hard to really advocate seeing this movie. At the same time, it isn’t horrible. For me, the film feels average, but at the same time, it is like, what is there to compare it to? Often we are on the side of the infiltrator and don’t watch them veer often into becoming a sort of double agent. Also, in this day and age, it is rare you really get any type of point of view from the side of the would-be evil, especially if the group is considered a terrorist. So, overall while the film does have some appeal, it has the type of issues which make it so that maybe it is worth watching if it is available for free OnDemand, HBO, or what have you, but I wouldn’t actively tell someone to spend money to see this.