Sarah (co-screenwriter Brit Marling), an undercover operative with a private security firm, is assigned to infiltrate an anarchist group that targets corporations suspected of massive cover-ups that impact the health and safety of their customers and the environment. Sarah has to submerge herself in the wandering anarchist lifestyle, including dumpster diving for food, working her way up the contact network until gaining access to the inner circle, headed by Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), the pan-sexual dreamer, and his righteously angry second-in-command, Izzy (Ellen Page).
Once inside, the moral tables begin to shift, with Sarah not only getting to know the stories of key followers in the movement, but also coming to question the corporate interests she has been enlisted to serve by her coolly brittle boss (Patricia Clarkson). Marling’s Sarah starts out as an empty soul with no anger or righteous fire in her, but we see the gradual seductive impact of the movement and its leader on her, the dawning awareness and development of a conscience. The question is, where will this lead her? The East offers a slight directional shift away from the speculative science fiction of Marling’s previous projects (Sound of My Voice and Another Earth), toward an exploration into the inner space of human psychology and morality, terrain most summer movies wouldn’t dare to tread on. (PG-13) Grade: A