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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for an adult audience. MOBILE: |
. "The East"

If you value an intelligently written and well-acted anti-establishment thriller, put this on your to-go list even if fictionalized eco-terrorism isn't among your primary concerns. One thing to celebrate here is a rendition of human motivation and behavior that's either realistic or acceptable for dramatic reasons. In other words, adult fare.

Of considerable note is beautiful Brit Marley's ("Arbitrage") dual role as central character Sarah and as the story's co-writer with director Zal Batmangli. This is their second collaboration following the cult film, "Sound of My Voice."

Jane Owen (Marling), a former FBI agent, wins the job that others at her private intelligence company are competing for. She's chosen by CEO Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) to go deep undercover (as Sarah Moss) on behalf of corporate clients who have been threatened or attacked by a well hidden band of illegal activists who concentrate on big businesses that they deem offenders. One of these is a multi-national pharmaceutical firm that's about to release a drug without the testing to adequately determine its potentially lethal side effects on a spectrum of the population likely to use it.

The manner by which Sarah locates the group when no other investigative authority has been able to do, is by dressing the part of a societal rebel and hanging out where others like her pseudo identity frequent, thus upping the chance she'll cross the path of a member or someone who expresses inside knowledge. This results in a bullseye that is, of course, highly coincidental if not improbable, but pretty much needed to expedite the story.

After convincing her new contact that she's who she's pretending to be, and proves it by receiving an injury for him, she's taken to a forested hideout with utmost caution and introduced to an extremely suspicious and distrustful band of dangerous misfits. From the git-go, Sarah is challenged to merit acceptance and to convince us of her character's training, resourceful thinking and special gifts that will make it possible to pull off the deception. The injury goes a long way toward removing doubts about her creds as a rebel.

While an attraction is sparked between Sarah and the charismatic Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), chief among the doubters is Isabel, aka Izzy (Ellen Page), a small but terrifying risk-taker who doesn't suffer fools or back down very easily in arguments. Of course, Sarah is anything but a fool and she becomes part of the next planned operation, or, "jam," as the radical group calls one of their exceedingly well devised and implemented attacks.

Other members of the tightly wound desperados are Doc (Toby Kebbell) whose skills Sarah has immediate need for, Luca (Shiloh Fernandez), Thumbs (Aldis Hodge), Tess (Danielle Macdonald) and Eve (Hillary Baack).

Marling is outstanding in a role she helped write. Among her qualities is the conveyance of internal thought processes and the brilliance going on behind those eyes. Judging from the list of credits she has in pre- or post production, she's well on her way to a becoming a big name talent, which is great news for the serious moviegoer.

Clarkson's another standout as the wry chieftain who gives the orders with wit and peremptory authority. Page, the little dynamo, finds a role designed for her special metier and the tendency to turn nasty into likeable which, in some ways, characterizes the film. Do we like these agenda-driven idealists more than we should?

The script lives up to a concept that's loaded with suspense and tension as the heroine skirts multiple dangers and, wherein, the stakes of getting out alive rise. Impressive are portrayals of people with embittered dedication to their cause and the way-clever revenge events they manage. If there's an exaggeration, it's in this department and in the composition of such a smart and effective gang. The dangers an infiltrated agent faces among criminals who are enemies sets it solidly in the fiction camp, where reaching for the incredible but possible is what keeps us on the edge of our seats. Most of the time.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Brit Marling as Jane Owen as Sarah Moss
Taken to the lair of eco-terrorism.

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