rating: 3.5The East is a schizophrenic film. Its a thriller, yet its final act feels more like a whimper than a bang. It asks big questions, then gives small answers. It wants to force serious thought, but has a handful of clunky, laughable scenes. Yet still it is entertaining throughout, so I cannot call it a failure. Co-written by star Brit Marling, The East plays out as an ethical and moral questionnaire. Marling plays an agent at an independent security firm who is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist, eco-terrorist group known as The East. The East is responsible for attacking major corporations and turning their supposed crimes against them; an early scene shows them flooding the home of a major oil corporations CEO with oil after they experience a BP-esque spill. Sure enough, Marling finds the group, but soon finds herself not only connecting with their message, but also with their mysterious leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård). The film, directed and co-written by Zal Batmanglij (who worked with Marling on last years Sound of My Voice) is crafted with driving, focused precision. So much happens over the course of the film (just under 2 hours), but we never feel like were getting too much at once. We also never feel any drag or down time, which is crucial in a film like this. It springs to life early, grabs us, and barrels ahead until its ending, never letting up or slowing down. What keeps the film from reaching the greatness it aspires to is, sadly, its writing. Ive been a big fan of Marlings writing throughout her career; only two years ago I saw Another Earth (co-written with director Mike Cahill) at this same festival and was blown away by it. But here, her and Batmanglij are working on a much larger scale than they have in the past, and it seems they dont know how to hold the tone of the writing throughout the film. There are scenes that feel horribly forced and out of place, and a couple of lines that draw laughs without meaning to. But most disappointing is the way that The East lets up on its moral questioning. Much like Sound of My Voice, The East deals heavily with issues of individual identity versus group identity. Marling is constantly forced to reconsider who the real guilty parties are (The East of those they target), but the rather then letting us ponder this question and make up our own minds, The East provides answers that seem undercooked. Ive always admired Marlings films for staring into deep, dark territories and asking questions without knowing the answers. Here, the lack of ambiguity actually weakens the film. We can see this entire issue at play in the films final scenes, where had it cut to credits after a certain scene (youll know it when you see it) rather than running on, it wouldve been a perfect ending. Its entirely possible that Im judging The East on a harder curve because of what Ive come to expect from Marling, and make no mistake, this is still a good film. It just isnt the film we expect or want it to be, more commercial than cerebral, more concerned with thrilling us than prodding us and making us think. In the end it just feels a bit empty, and we cant help but wonder what couldve been had it been just a bit bolder.