Review: 'The East' is satisfying eco-suspense
This film publicity image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures shows Ellen Page, left, and Alexander Skarsgard in a scene from "The East." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight Pictures, Myles Aronowitz)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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. Zal Batmanglij and cowriter/star Brit Marling deliver a consistently tense, morally alert story that has plenty of box-office appeal.
Marling plays Sarah, a former FBI agent now seeking her fortune in the private sector. Her first assignment for Hiller/Brood, a secretive company providing undercover risk assessments for multinational corporations, requires her to infiltrate a new anarchist group, The East, which has targeted polluters in a series of let-the-punishment-fit-the-crime "jams."
This film publicity image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures shows Brit Marling, left, and Shiloh Fernandez in a scene from "The East." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight Pictures, Myles Aronowitz)
Telling her patient 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. After an enjoyable bit of improvised role-playing, she winds up at the burned-up mansion The East calls home.
The group looks a bit like a cult, especially given the shaggy, Jesus-like appearance of head strategist Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), but is more of a democracy than it seems. 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 together they decide how to get close enough to do that company well-publicized harm.