A comfortably corporatized thriller, "The East" wants you to believe that a private security operative as well-coiffed as Sarah (Brit Marling) would hop freight trains, eat garbage and live in abject squalor on behalf of her Fortune 500 clients, but be malleable enough to switch sides as soon as the "truth" becomes clear. Clearly, the girl's been living in a bubble. Or isn't quite the desperate careerist we've been led to believe. Or is a lot stupider than she looks. Or is simply meant to provide a tidy metaphor for the American public -- much the way the chanting, candle-lighting, collectivist hippies around her are supposed to represent the Occupy/anarchist/eco-militant arm of the nation's political conversation.
It's irritatingly smug. Turn off your brain, however, and "The East," co-written by Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, is a competent enough drama of the politically conscious variety, whose heroine works for a firm devoted to undermining the enemies of its select multinational clientele. The company is led by the icy Sharon (Patricia Clarkson), who sees in Sarah something of her younger self, although Sharon would never be won over by The East -- a band of anarchist rebels led by the charismatic Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) and his right-hand woman Izzy, (Ellen Page), who are determined to give corporate polluters and poisoners a taste of their own medicine.
The way that very real issues are used as dramatic shortcuts, and characters are reduced to cartoons, suggests that the magnetic Marling's talents as a writer have been a bit overblown. How The East itself is portrayed raises a few ethical questions: The members, notably Benji and Izzy, are themselves the children of corporate villains. Are they patriotic idealists? Or just mad at Daddy? For all its ostensible passion, "The East" won't upset anyone's existing point of view.
PLOT A young woman working as a corporate "fixer" infiltrates a band of idealistic anarchists, gets seduced.
RATING PG-13 (some disturbing images, sexual content and partial nudity)
CAST Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson
BOTTOM LINE Watery plot and unconvincing characters sink what could have been, maybe with a different script, a smartly made movie.