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Movie review: ‘The East’

Posted 4:43pm on Thursday, Jun. 06, 2013

PG-13 (thematic elements, violence, strong language, disturbing images, sexual content, partial nudity); 116 min.

A social-conscience espionage film that has actually thought about its “eco-terrorism” themes beyond figuring out how to mine them for suspense, The East sends a straight-laced overachiever undercover with a violent eco-vigilante group. Director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer/star Brit Marling deliver a consistently tense, morally alert story.

Marling plays Sarah, a former FBI agent now seeking her fortune in the private sector. Her assignment for Hiller Brood, a secretive company providing undercover risk assessments for corporations, requires her to infiltrate an anarchist group, The East.

Telling her boyfriend (Jason Ritter) she’s off to Dubai for business, Sarah actually hits the streets not far from her Washington, D.C., home — getting grubby with freegans and hobos while watching for someone whose political rants sound likely to produce action.

The group looks a bit like a cult, especially given the Jesus-like appearance of head strategist Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). Members like Doc (Toby Kebbell) and Izzy (Ellen Page) offer villains from their own pasts — a reckless drug manufacturer, say, whose wares injured loved ones — and decide how to get close enough to do that company well-publicized harm.

Sarah will inevitably be changed by this group. But will it be in the expected, manageable way — some sympathy is inevitable when you devote every waking moment to earning someone’s trust — or will she go rogue?

The actors bringing this band of anarchists to life project enough wounded, uncertain self-righteousness to distance them from the generic zealots more often seen in this kind of tale, and Marling, working behind a couple layers of role-playing, keeps audiences guessing about what Sarah actually believes.

Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; Angelika Plano

— John DeFore,

The Hollywood Reporter

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