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‘The East,’ a tale of corporate espionage, takes its direction from Brit Marling

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‘THE EAST’ ★★★

Jane/Sarah Brit Marling

Benji Alexander Skarsgard

Izzy Ellen Page

Sharon Patricia Clarkson

Paige Julia Ormond

Richard Jamey Sheridan

Doc Toby Kebbell

Fox Searchlight presents a film directed by Zal Batmanglij. Written by Batmanglij and Brit Marling. Running time: 116 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, violence, some disturbing images, sexual content and partial nudity). Opening Friday at Landmark Century and Evanston CineArts 6.

Updated: July 8, 2013 6:06AM

Unlike most young, beautiful actresses in Hollywood, Brit Marling doesn’t work hard just to be cast in films, as she was in last year’s “Arbitrage.”

Already in the early stages of her career, Marling has gone out and actually written screenplays that feature meaty roles she can play — something that gained her great buzz at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival when her “Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice” debuted to great acclaim.

Now with “The East,” Marling has done that again — and it’s another project that proves this actress and filmmaker has the chops that will guarantee her longevity in the movie industry.

Again teaming up with her Georgetown University chum, writer-director Zal Batmanglij, who also co-wrote and directed “Sound of My Voice,” Marling has crafted a nicely taut, suspenseful cinematic journey into the world of corporate espionage.

She stars as Jane, an ex-FBI agent who has moved on to a new career at the ominously named Hiller Brood. It’s a super-secretive private intelligence firm that will go to any length to protect the perceived commercial needs of some of the nation’s biggest and most powerful corporations.

Hiller Brood is led by Sharon, played with deliciously chilling style and ruthlessness by Patricia Clarkson, who packages her character’s win-at-all-costs inner core inside a slickly chic outer shell.

Sharon taps Jane for a particularly challenging assignment: to go deep undercover to become a member of the mysterious and elusive group that calls itself The East. It has been targeting companies it believes has been hiding activities that The East considers criminal conduct. While corporate America believes The East to be a bunch of eco-terrorists, the members of the underground cell are clearly committed — with unwavering zeal — to what they feel is the only way to expose companies’ pursuit of profits, with little or no concern for the human cost.

After first facing great skepticism from the group, Jane — now known as Sarah — first wins over The East’s leader, Benji (played with intelligent brooding by Alexander Skarsgard), and ultimately (if reluctantly) the rest of the collective, including the deeply suspicious Izzy (Ellen Page).

We then are taken on a number of “jams” — what The East terms its various strikes at corporations it believes is poisoning the environment. The offenders include a pharmaceutical conglomerate and an energy company involved in the polluting of drinking-water sources.

The film’s ongoing tension is nicely provided by Jane/Sarah’s never-ending quest to hide her true identity. However that becomes further complicated when she gradually begins to become intrigued by the mission of her erstwhile cohorts in The East — whom she initially set out to expose and destroy. While the development of a not-unexpected romance between Benji and Jane/Sarah adds a further complication, the character’s eventual conflicted emotions likely would have arisen anyway.

It is that conflict that becomes the crux of “The East,” and it provides a nice twist to this very contemporary tale as it moves to its satisfying and highly believable conclusion.

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