In a perfect world, exciting and ideas-driven mainstream films could be fronted (as well as created) by women without the need for a poster girl in the twenty-first century. In this imperfect world, however, 29-year-old writer-actor Brit Marling is that poster girl. This sleek, smart enviro-thriller is a more commercial movie from Marling and director Zal Batmanglij than 2011 cult study ‘Sound of My Voice’. But its morally ambiguous investigation of extreme left-wing politics is still light years away from usual multiplex concerns.
Marling excels as Sarah, an ex-FBI agent recruited by her sly private security firm boss (Patricia Clarkson on lip-smacking form) to infiltrate The East, a band of eco-terrorists on a violent rampage against corporate America. Inevitably, she’s seduced into their way of thinking – not hard to understand when their leader is Alexander Skarsgård. But the film keeps its good-evil borders compellingly supple, at least until a wobbly finale that requires Sarah to act like the Hollywood heroine she has so strenuously avoided becoming. It’s a minor blot on a film otherwise propulsively alive with prickly politics.