Film review | The East – Brit Marling’s undercover spy goes green when she infiltrates an eco-terrorist cell

The East - Brit Marling & Alexander Skarsgard

A bright-eyed corporate spy finds her moral certainties begin to blur after infiltrating an eco-terrorist cell in The East, another stimulating indie thriller from writer-star Brit Marling and writer-director Zal Batmanglij, makers of the similarly thought-provoking Sound of My Voice.

Marling plays the spy, Sarah Moss, a straight-arrow young agent for a private security firm who gets picked by her coolly cynical boss (Patricia Clarkson) to penetrate an elusive anarchist collective that is inflicting subversive acts of retribution upon unethical corporations. Calling itself ‘The East’, the group ensures that punishment fits the crime: an oil company causes an environmental disaster; its CEO discovers an oil spill flooding his home.

The East  - Brit Marling, Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard

To put a stop to this on behalf of her firm’s corporate clients, the resourceful Sarah worms her way into the group, posing as a Birkenstock-wearing, freight-train-hopping freegan. Before long, she’s joining charismatic leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), zealous lieutenant Izzy (Ellen Page) and the rest in their attacks, or ‘jams’, but as she immerses herself ever deeper in her undercover role her previous loyalties start to waver.

As for us, the film’s viewers, we may experience some intellectual wobbles, too. If you start off seeing the film’s moral world in simple black and white terms – greedy one percent on one side; righteous activists on the other – then you’ll be left uneasy when the group’s stunts escalate dangerously and the psychological motivation behind their radicalism begins to emerge. Marling and Batmanglij’s desire to paint in shades of gray sometimes blurs their story, but they do deliver gripping suspense and challenging ideas along the way.

In cinemas from Friday 28th June.

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