ALLIED Review

There is much to be said for Allied-a film that desperately wants to pay proper respects to its influences of yesteryear, but there is an equal amount with this most prestige of all prestige pictures (at least based on its credentials and story, if not the awards attention it will never receive) that goes unsaid in ways that leave the viewer hoping for more, but receiving very little. The costume drama/wartime romance that is Allied is a film that should, by definition of those involved, be something of a rejuvenation of the genre rather than one that follows the rules of it for mediocre results. With the likes of Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Cast Away, The Polar Express) directing one would expect the film to take the preconceptions of the time period and the genre and apply them to a unique or at least more interesting way of capturing this material, but if anything Zemeckis actually plays things as straight as possible delivering not necessarily a bad movie, but a safe if not masterfully made one. If there is one thing Allied excels at it is letting the viewer know how good looking its two stars are in multiple, era-appropriate fashions while also seeming to overly focus on just how young Brad Pitt is still capable of looking. Granted, there is clearly some type of digital touching up to Pitt's face, but why bother outside of keeping in step with the overall glossy aesthetic of the picture is unclear. Moreover, the dazzling aesthetic, impressive set designs, and elegant costumes would all still be just as appreciated and impressive if not more so if they weren't so much of what the film has going for it. Instead, they are the prime focus of positives as the narrative feels somewhat lacking despite being a genuinely intriguing premise from which certain, very specific tensions can be spurned. In essence, Allied is a missed opportunity to make an old school war drama through the lens of modern filmmaking, but as the key element that is the story doesn't remain consistent in the high stakes of the drama it seems to so thoughtlessly spin Allied never manages to feel substantial in any way, shape, or form thus leaving the viewer with a decent movie-going experience, but certainly not a memorable one. 
French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) and Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) engage in a relationship born from their field work.
Photo credit: Daniel Smith - © 2016 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
It is not only the actors and the sets that are attractive in Allied, but the premise truly is as well. Writer Steven Knight (Locke, Eastern Promises) tells that he has been holding onto this story for some time and found inspiration through an English girl he once dated whose brother was in the S.O.E., or the British secret service, who apparently lived a life at least somewhat similar to what we have here. Knight has said in interviews that he always knew the story would be a film, but it feels in this case as if the story about what it took to get it to the big screen might have been more riveting than the story he was telling. In the film itself, we are first treated to what we have come to expect from a director like Zemeckis who delights in pushing the technologies and camera work of movie-making. Opening on a wide, sweeping shot of the deserts of French Morocco in 1942 the image is still until that of a man's feet drop into frame, revealing he has parachuted out of a plane, and lands atop a sandy hill only to rise to his feet and look stoically out across the barren landscape. It's not too much, but it's accomplished in a single take and this at least lets us know that despite the genre and straightforward approach that Zemeckis is still very much on top of his game and, at the very least, looking for ways to innovate and invigorate. From here, we learn that the parachuting man is that of Max Vatan (Pitt) a Canadian intelligence officer who has arrived in Casablanca to collaborate with a female French Resistance fighter known as Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Naturally, as we are talking about two individuals who look like Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard they find it impossible not to fall in love with one another and so after their rather impressively staged mission is accomplished successfully they reunite in London to be married, but given that portion of the film is wrapped up in the first forty-five minutes we know this isn't the most difficult obstacle their relationship will face.

In a time when movies are greenlit based on franchise potential and brand recognition to have a movie such as this come to us from a major studio with major stars no matter if it's in the midst of Oscar season or not, is beyond enticing. With the amount of talent in front of and behind the camera here there was bound to be a level of pure professionalism, but there was also a certainty that such well-regarded artists might come up with something slightly...better. More effective. More thrilling. Anything, really. Rather, Allied is mostly filled with only professionalism as the film goes through the motions of its rote story in well-constructed fashion only every now and then doing something to spark a hope that the aforementioned team of well-regarded artists might have felt some modicum of inspiration. Instead, what we can draw from Allied is the fact that Pitt is very much trying to fashion his movie star persona on those of the golden age of Hollywood by taking roles that liken him to the most iconic stars of that period. We also draw that Cotillard is beyond gorgeous, can wear any dress she likes and make it look fantastic, and also has the upper hand performance-wise as she gets to play two shades to a single character with the movie itself never giving any indication of what direction the truth sways. And so, what of the performances? Both Pitt and Cotillard are interesting actors who have done plenty of compelling work, but here they are called upon to more or less be themselves; only existing in a different time period and under a different set of circumstances. That may sound like they're still pulling a lot of weight as actors and that's true, they are certainly giving performances, but these are tapered performances that don't require the amount of investment Pitt might have typically done for something like Snatch or Inglorious Basterds or that Cotillard has pulled off in La Vie en Rose or Midnight in Paris. In a sense, what the two stars are doing here essentially feels more pedestrian when compared to what we know they're capable of. Again, there are segments in the film that work and the presence of performers that can elicit sympathy certainly improve how a viewer will react to the material, but all in all Allied is simply too cumbersome to be as consummate as it purports to be.

Vatan and Beauséjour test out their weapons together before doing so on one another.
Photo credit: Daniel Smith - © 2016 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Despite the final effect of the film being that of something routine it still has a way of remaining intriguing if not exactly all that entertaining throughout. One of the main reasons for this is Zemeckis' film language and his mastery of it that is on display. Whether it be in the aforementioned ambitious opening shot, small touches such as Zemeckis opening a scene on a close-up of Pitt and then slowly zooming out to reveal it to be his reflection in a mirror placing that of Cotillard's face much closer in relation to Pitt's Vatan as well as within the frame giving us the sly feeling that all is not as it appears. Pair this with many of the transitions Zemeckis creates in the film that had to be orchestrated prior to editing, one in particular that deals with giving birth during an air raid is especially noteworthy, and you have a film that is indisputably handsomely mounted. Every facet of Allied feels calculated and controlled-and this works for the first hour or so as the characters themselves are supposed to act this way in light of their situation that has them acting as spies attempting to pull off an assassination. It is during this first half hour where we get to know Pitt's Vatan and Cotillard's Beauséjour under the light of them being strangers to one another, but having to put on the facade of lovers that dynamics and conversations are made interesting. Up to the point that we learn of their objective in killing one of Hitler's right-hand men and through that action set-piece the tone and quality of the filmmaking matches that of the narrative rather fittingly, but it is once the film jumps ahead three weeks and re-locates to London where the nature of Vatan and Beauséjour's lives are more relaxed that things begin to feel disjointed. It is from this point on that the film has to answer the question of whether or not this premise can be fully realized in the second half of the picture. Save for some of the tension elicited from the waiting game Vatan has to play and a sole action sequence where he and some men raid a German prison though, there isn't much excuse for Zemeckis to utilize too many tricks or exploit that much tension for drama. As things draw to an end, the drama is naturally richer with the climax resonating more than expected, but such investment isn't consistent enough to warrant an enthusiastic recommendation if not one more out of basking in the visual beauty Allied has to offer.