06/05/2013 12:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Popcorn Preview: The East

Film: The East (2013)
Cast includes: Brit Marlin (Arbitrage), Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), Ellen Page (Juno), Patricia Clarkson (Shutter Island), Julia Ormond (Mad Men)
Director: Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice)
Genre: Drama | Thriller (116 minutes)

"We are The East... We want all those who are guilty to experience the terror of their crime. It's easy when it's not your life. But when it's your fault, it shouldn't be so easy to sleep at night." The East is an underground group of eco-terrorists. They target companies and corporate leaders who cause harm to people and the environment. While their activities are nothing short of contemptible, they do have a sense of poetic justice. An eye for an eye... an oil spill for an oil spill. Meanwhile, Sarah is being considered for a promotion at Hiller Brood. Her boyfriend, Tim, doesn't know what it is... "more mysterious than when you worked for the FBI"... but he tells her, "No matter what happens, you're still a winner." In the interview, Sharon asks Sarah who she'd choose. "Me. I'd be unexpected." Sharon does the unexpected thing, too, and chooses Sarah... although she fears Sarah's not tough enough. "You haven't failed at anything... yet."

Tim drops Sarah off at the airport, thinking she's got an assignment in Dubai. She soon sheds the trench coat and transforms herself into a "counterculture type." Sarah actually works for the "top counterterrorist agency in the world." They get hired by companies who have reasons to fear being targeted by groups like The East. It's Sarah's job to blend in with counterculture types in hopes of finding a member of The East and infiltrating. But it's dangerous. In Kansas City, they're evicted from a freight train and brutalized by the cops. When she tries standing up for Luca, she's beaten and handcuffed. Luca comes to her rescue when she escapes over a fence. Is Luca connected with The East? Just when she decides he's probably a Fed, she notices a clue that says otherwise. Quick action on her part ups her chances of being taken into the inner circle... and it works. As it happens, the group has an upcoming "jam"... and while they don't entirely trust Sarah, one of their members has disappeared and they need her.

The group makes sure Sarah doesn't know any more than she has to, so she's unable to give Sharon much advanced warning. But when she does call... at great risk... the response from Sharon isn't at all what she's expecting. The East takes us to a dark world where people live in a burned out house and dumpster dive for food. As the story unfolds, we learn that each group member has his or her own reason for joining the group. Sharon warns Sarah repeatedly not to go soft, but at times it's difficult not to have sympathies for the group she's supposed to be working against. As thrillers go, this one makes us work a bit harder than most because the morality is ambiguous. Like Sarah, we reach a point where we're not entirely sure whose side we're really on. Lead actress, Brit Marlin wrote the original screenplay because she wasn't entirely satisfied with the roles she was being offered. She's not the first actor to resort to extraordinary measures to infiltrate Hollywood. I suspect we'll be seeing more of her. Meanwhile, The East doesn't sugarcoat or romanticize the characters or their mission. "Why is it that self-righteousness goes hand and hand with resistance movements? But you're not tough enough for the truth!" The truth can be messy.

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Sarah poses as a counterculture type in order to infiltrate a group of eco-terrorists

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13 (Language, violence, sexual content, crime)
Audience: Young adults
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Primary Driver: Plot development
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Pure entertainment & Thought provoking

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