Despite a bunch of cold characters and a deeply contrived plot, this film is so infused with hot topicality that we are held in its grip all the way through. The issue is corporate irresponsibility and grass-roots activism, both of which feel ripped straight from the headlines to give the movie an edgy, almost documentary urgency. On the other hand, it's nearly impossible to get involved in the story's inter-personal dramas.
Director Batmanglij is reteaming with Sound of My Voice actress-cowriter Marling, who this time plays Jane, a corporate-security spy assigned by her shark-like boss (Clarkson) to infiltrate the eco-terrorism group The East. The goal is to prevent them from attacking any of her clients. It takes Jane awhile to worm her way into the anarchists' inner sanctum, where she immediately finds an affinity with leader Benji (Skarsgard), medically trained Doc (Kebbell) and flamboyant Luca (Fernandez). It takes longer to warm to the prickly Izzy (Page), but eventually Jane finds herself part of the core team, invited to participate in a series of jams in which The East gives company bosses a taste of their own toxic medicine.
In the cast of a pharmaceutical giant, this is quite literally the case: they infect the executive (Ormond) with the dangerous drug she's selling to the developing world. And the gang also stages assaults on oil companies in ways that are eerily easy for us to identify with, because the activists are making an important point. Indeed, we never really doubt where the filmmakers' sympathies lie: even if their actions are illegal and rather nasty, these "terrorists" are the good guys. At least this moral complexity gives the film a brainy kick.
Unfortunately, the script isn't happy to leave it there. They also stir in a relationship drama that never remotely catches fire, mainly because of the film's stylishly glassy tone and the fact that the always watchable Marling is an unusually icy actress. Her interaction with the much more emotionally resonant Skarsgard is off-balance. And the filmmakers shy away from a more intriguing lusty link between Izzy and Jane to focus on Jane's journey to ethical enlightenment, which is far too obvious. Just a bit more ambiguity might have forced us to examine our own feelings and opinions.
Run time: 116 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th June 2013
Box Office USA: $2.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $2.4M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Production compaines: Scott Free Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 103 Rotten: 37
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Screenwriter: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij
Starring: Brit Marling as Sarah, Alexander Skarsgård as Benji, Ellen Page as Izzy, Toby Kebbell as Doc, Shiloh Fernandez as Luca, Aldis Hodge as Thumbs, Danielle Macdonald as Tess, Hillary Baack as Eve, Patricia Clarkson as Sharon, Jason Ritter as Tim, Julia Ormond as Paige, Billy Magnussen as Porty McCabe, Wilbur Fitzgerald as Robert McCabe, John Neisler as Rory Huston, Jamey Sheridan as Richard Cannon
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