In many ways, the titular group in the eco-thriller The East recalls a peace-loving pack of hippies. Though not unwashed—in fact, they take communal baths—they scavenge in garbage bins, play rounds of “spin the bottle” that include minutelong embraces and perform mealtime rituals involving straitjackets. But the East takes after the Weather Underground more than it does a group of herb-loving flower children: It’s an anarchist eco-terrorist collective, which launches eye-for-an-eye campaigns against oil companies, Big Pharma and other crooked corporations. In Zal Batmanglij’s absorbing, suspenseful and wildly implausible film, a young operative for a private intelligence agency (Brit Marling, who co-wrote the screenplay with Batmanglij) goes undercover to infiltrate the cell. She’s drawn to the sense of community even as she’s troubled by the group’s actions—poisoning pharmaceutical execs with their own drugs, for example—and she comes to question the profit-minded world she works for (Patricia Clarkson plays the appropriately icy boss). The lines of morality are appealingly wooly, and the performances—Marling’s controlled ambiguity, Ellen Page as a fervent activist and Alexander Skarsgård as the group’s charismatic ringleader—bring the film’s logic-straining turns back down to earth. Most impressive, though, might be the film’s even-keeled approach to these activists: They’re neither freaks nor superheroes, but rather a ragtag group of young idealists straining for meaning and community.
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- Release Date: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
- MPAA Rating: PG-13
- Critic's Score: B
- Watch the trailer