2016, R, 124 mins.
Brad Pitt as Max Vatan / Marion Cotillard as Marianne Beausejour / Lizzy Caplan as Bridget Vatan / Matthew Goode as Guy Sangster / Jared Harris as Frank Heslop / Anton Lesser as Emmanuel Lombard / August Diehl as Hobar / Marion Bailey as Mrs. Sinclair
Directed by Robert Zemeckis / Written by Steven Knight
Robert Zemeckis' World War II romance/espionage drama ALLIED is an attempt on his part, I think, to craft a loving homage to the aesthetic of old Hollywood utilizing, of course, modern day technology.
This is certainly
not the Oscar winning filmmaker's first foray into WWII (he co-wrote 1941
decades ago for Steven Spielberg), but ALLIED marks his first time dealing
with this historical terrain from behind the camera.
With a screenplay that frequently crackles with Hitchcockian
suspense and intrigue by Stephen Knight (whom previously wrote and
directed the masterfully minimalist Tom Hardy one-man show LOCKE)
and with proven lead actors at the helm, Zemeckis has assembled a truly ace
team here to craft his ode to CASABLANCA and NOTORIOUS, even though the
film does indeed stumble along the way and has some noticeable faults that
hold it back from achieving true greatness.
The finest aspect
of ALLIED is that it's an atypical WWII era genre effort in the sense that
it's not about soldiers on the front lines or combat between nations
(like, say, the recent HACKSAW RIDGE).
No, Zemeckis' film - like CASABLANCA well before it - concerns a
different type of conflict that occurs well beyond the battlefield, which
ultimately makes the film more of a spy thriller than a chronicle of the
hellish rigors of war.
The film opens by introducing us to Canadian intelligence agent Max
Vatan (Brad Pitt, who's 52-years-old, but still has an ageless facade that suits
his role and the film well) that's stationed in Morocco
on a top secret mission to assassinate a German ambassador at a lavish
and very public gala.
His superiors have "given him a wife" as a form of cover,
but more specifically to partner with him on his dangerous quest in the
form of a beautiful French Resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour (a
pitch perfectly cast Marion Cotillard, capable of encapsulating classic Hollywood glamour with ease).
acclimatize themselves to posing as a married couple and grow to learn
more intimate details about the other, sparks do indeed and predictably
begin to fly between them (which culminates in one of the film's more
unintentionally laughable moments of them making love in a car with a
massive desert sand storm erupting on the outside).
Marianne is trusted by the Germans, which allows the pair to gain
an invitation to the German ambassador's party.
The plan goes off relatively smoothly and the pair do escape, but
Max has become so smitten and attached to Marianne that he asks her to
come live with him as he returns to London, to which she agrees.
They settle down, get married, and have a baby (the birth -
occurring on the streets of London as the Germans shell it with bombs - in
the film's other unintentionally laughable moment), and begin a life of
normalcy and happiness.
Just when Max
feels that he has achieved some level of peace and harmony outside of the
nightmarish extremes of war he receives a special assignment
from his superior (a stalwart Jared Harris) and a special operations
higher up (played impeccably well, in a brief scene, by Simon McBurney)
that they have received intelligence that Marianne potentially has been lying to
Max for years and is actually an undercover German spy.
The evidence they have is not completely conclusive, which is where
Max figures in: They order him to plant false intelligence information in
hopes that Marianne will find it and subsequently send it to her German handlers, which
hopefully can be traced.
If she's a spy then Max is ordered to kill her on sight (failure to
do so will have him charged for treason and executed), but if she's
proven to be innocent then Max can continue to go about his marriage as if
Of course, Max initially refuses to believe such a nonsensical
theory, but he's given no alternative to abandon his assignment. The
more agonizingly tense time he spends with his "loving" wife the more suspicious
he grows of her every move.
Zemeckis is a
beyond proven and bona fide talent as a technical filmmaker (his
recreation of 1970's New York and the wirewalk between the Twin Towers in
his previous and very underrated film THE
WALK is testament to that), and ALLIED is another unqualified
visual triumph for him.
His overall command of the period decor, production design, and art
direction is truly superlative, making for audience immersion in this era
occur with relative ease and immediacy (cinematographer Don Burgess's lush
imagery and Joanna Johnston's immaculate costume design are Oscar caliber here). Zemeckis
is also no stranger to infusing his films with top notch visual effects,
and ALLIED is no exception, even though it's arguably a lighter production
for him than his previous films on that level.
Also, they are instances here and there where some of the effects
work betrays the nostalgic look and feel of the classic films of yesteryear
that he was paradoxically going for (some scenes - such as the
aforementioned one in the desert with Marianne and Max - never feel like
they were shot on location, but instead appear to be the product of greenscreen
It would be easy
to argue that Knight's script is a real star and standout of ALLIED,
something that Zemeckis equally regards and is evident in the film.
The story has a very methodical and slow burn approach to the
material, seeing as the first half is about character introductions and
establishing a loving bond between the two spies during their first
The latter - and more enthralling - half deals with Max desperately
trying to honor the wishes of his superiors while trying to maintain a
calm and collected facade with his wife that may or may not be a traitor.
Knight and Zemeckis working in concert together to conjure up some
truly remarkable sequences of nail biting suspense that taps into Max's
That, and the script legitimately keeps us guessing as to
Marianne's culpability or lack thereof.
All of this tension is driven home by Cotillard's brilliantly
spot-on performance as Marianne, who has an inordinately tricky
performance task of not showing her character's cards on the table with
too much obviousness.
unfortunately, brings me to the other performance half of ALLIED that
regrettably does the whole enterprise a rather grave disservice.
Brad Pitt is one of our most dependably charismatic actors and has
certainly imbued his previous WWII films (like INGLOURIOUS
BASTERDS and FURY, a greatly overlooked diamond in the genre rough
with ample and memorable eccentricity and fiery charm.
It's depressing, as a result and by direct comparison to those
films, to see the
actor deliver such a flat, monotone, and at times borderline emotionally
comatose performance as his anxiety plagued intelligence officer.
Compared to Cotillard's impassioned performance, there's an
alarming aura of disinterest in Pitt through the film, which has the
negative consequence of neutering his chemistry with Cotillard.
At times you have to wonder what Marianne ever saw in this fairly
emotionless lug...other than the fact that he looks like Brad Pitt and
looks good in uniform; they're simply not very convincing as an on-screen
Everything in ALLIED builds towards a potentially pulse pounding conclusion that's disappointingly anti-climatic. All in all, considering that this film is from the acclaimed director of BACK TO THE FUTURE, FORREST GUMP, CONTACT, and FLIGHT, I was left frankly wanting and expecting more; Zemeckis never quite delivers on all of the tantalizing promises and potential in his film. That's not to say that the director's passionate heart isn't in the material, because it clearly is, seeing as this is a as handsomely mounted as any period film I've seen - it's an stunningly nostalgic effort that evokes Hollywood's Golden Age while still embracing 21st century filmmaking resources. And half of the performance dynamic here works splendidly. Ultimately, I find myself just marginally recommending ALLIED because the sum of what it does resoundingly well trumps its distracting deficiencies. The film might represent Zemeckis at his most conventional, but I'll still take a conventional Zemeckis film over most of what I sit through in a cinema these days.
MY CTV Preview - ALLIED