“Jane” (Marling) is a former FBI agent who has taken a job as an operative at a private security and intelligence firm, Hiller Brood. It’s a major player in the industry and its CEO, “Sharon” (Clarkson) wants to make it even bigger. She sends Sarah on an assignment to penetrate a group of anarchists who call themselves The East.
She can’t tell her boyfriend “Tim” (Ritter) where she’s really going. Instead he thinks she is off in Dubai. In fact she’s hopping trains, digging in dumpsters and trying to connect with someone who is a part of The East. Calling herself “Sarah, she eventually gets inside the group and meets “Benji” (Skarsgard). He is much a leader as anyone in the group, which is a collective that makes important decisions by majority vote. Benji is charismatic but Sarah stays focused on her mission. There is tension between her and “Izzy” (Page) as Izzy sees her as a romantic rival for Benji.
The group is planning to carry our three of their operations (they refer to them as “jams”) against big corporations before they move on from their current safe house. When a female member of the group leaves suddenly it leaves them one person short for the first jam. Sarah volunteers and finds herself with only one task at a party. Keep the son of the CEO of a pharmaceutical firm busy while the others spike the champagne of party-goers with one of the firm’s dangerous drugs.
After that jam goes off without a hitch, the second is planned. This one is against a large industrial plant, which is dumping arsenic into the local water system. That is poisoning the small town adjacent to where the toxins are being dumped. They kidnap the CEO and another person from the plant and make them get into the water just before the large, nightly dump of the poisons. This jam reveals who Izzy really is, and doesn’t come off without a hitch. In the aftermath, Benji sends everyone home for a ‘time-out’ and tells them to come back only if they want to participate in the final jam.
Now that she is Jane again, she feels she’s done her job and doesn’t want to go back in. However, Sharon wants to know what that final jam is, and to use it to land yet more clients. By this point Jane’s feelings are very mixed and how that will impact the finale is definitely unclear.
This isn’t the first collaboration between Marling and Batmanglij. They worked together on Sound of My Voice and in the summer of 2009 the pair spent two months living as freeganists as research for The East. This is a better film, helped along by a bigger budget and producers Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott. The East is relevant, revealing and may well make you revile giant corporations (if you don’t already). It is definitely a film that will have you thinking things over as you walk out of the auditorium.