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» The Telegraph Review: The East

A political thriller takes us inside the world of the anti-capitalist movement, with mixed results says Tim Robey.
by Tim Robey, published on June 27, 2013 - 12:01 PM BST

The East

Coolly beautiful as well as an intriguing, slightly withholding actress, Brit Marling remains a name to watch. She wrote and starred in the frustrating sci-fi drama Another Earth and the interesting cult-infiltration thriller Sound of My Voice, whose director, Zal Batmanglij, calls the shots once again here. They have a great idea. Unethical corporations face attack from anarchist groups: one, known as ‘The East’, slip dangerous drugs into the champagne glasses of the very executives who’ve put them on the market, or simulate an oil spillage in the ventilation system of a CEO’s McMansion.

Marling plays Jane Owen, hired by a private security firm to go undercover as ‘Sarah’ and find the perpetrators. They are an innocuous-seeming collective of hairy, huggy freegans, living off trash in Pittsburgh, and supposedly squatting in a vacant, ramshackle home – though it may actually belong to Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), the group’s mysterious Nordic Adonis of a leader. Jane’s boss, played with frosty verve by Patricia Clarkson, picked her for a reason – she slots right in. Almost too much so. Just like Keanu Reeves consorting with the surfer-criminals in Point Break, she gets personally involved with the subjects of her investigation, unsure whether to beat them or join them.

When the movie’s thriving on uncertainty, pinning Jane between two camps with equally sinister potential, it has a prickly ingenuity and promise. It’s gripping, for at least an hour. When it fails, it’s mainly because Marling’s character feels too naive, unaware of the damaging secrets companies might lie about, the retaliatory moves her new friends are willing to make, and the fact that Clarkson couldn’t care less about the victims of these attacks when they’re not paying her to care. The script needed to be cannier, perhaps more cynical, on all of these counts. Come the final act, the best political thrillers don't play nice, after all – they twist the knife. This one’s so concerned with making the world a better place, it retracts the blade and wipes it clean.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

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