‘Allied’ Questions the Spy Who Loved Brad Pitt
Director Robert Zemeckis, has offered up a mixed bag as of late. After last year’s disjointed biographical drama The Walk, the famed Back to the Future director needed a rebound in 2016. His World War II romantic thriller, Allied, had all the right ingredients on paper. Unfortunately, what works in theory doesn’t translate as well on the big screen.
Set in the heart of World War II, Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is dispatched to Casablanca to assassinate the German ambassador. Vatan is not alone in the matter. Paired with French Resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), poses a married couple to gain closer access to the ambassador. Despite questioning from the Germans, the duo maintain the charade without a hitch. Their mission is a success. As a result, Vatan and Beausejour turn fiction into a reality, settling down as a married couple in London.
Like Zemeckis’ last film, Allied is a bit of an oddball, paced quite disjointedly. The first act is a blend of Casablanca, Inglourious Basterds (also starring Pitt) and a hint of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Pitt again). The trouble here is that Allied desires so much to be other films that it loses its own identity in the process. The opening action sequence in Casablanca does have its entertaining moments. But with all of its action-packed cards on the table from scene one, the remainder of the film comes off as jarring. After only one mission, they immediately want to be together.
Partway through the film after the newlyweds get settled, Vatan is called in by his superiors to spy on his significant other. Rumor has it that his wife is a sleeper agent German spy. Tasked with watching her for 72 hours, Vatan is confronted with skepticism and paranoia at every turn. If the rumor is false, then all is forgiven and they’re able to life a peaceful life. However, if she is a German spy, then he will be forced to kill her by his own hand.
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The sudden mystery should usher in a sense of nail-biting urgency, moving the pieces towards a solution. The screenplay by Stephen Knight captures the chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard with ease. But, there’s not enough of an emotional punch to propel a hard-hitting mystery. Cotillard’s motives are so subdued that it contrasts with her femme fatale persona she’s developed in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. While Pitt is investigating the various leads, we don’t have the wow moment of revelation at any point. It’s to a point where the climax could go either way and it’s hardly a concern.
Allied is not a failure by any means. It’s just Zemeckis doesn’t bring the full potential to the table. With a star-studded cast, stellar costume design, score and art direction, Allied was on the road to the full package. The screenplay is what’s holding the film back for greatness. And weirdly enough, the visuals bring up the rear as well. Zemeckis attempts to capture World War II Casablanca, but there’s an unusual vibe of artificiality. The odd lighting choices and Brad Pitt’s de-aged character throughout take the audience out of the moment.
The concept of Allied is believable as spies on both sides were existent during World War II. A Canadian intelligence agent and a French Resistance fighter could have easily gotten together after the war and one of them could have been a spy for the enemy. It’s simply the film’s overall execution that slowly gnaws away at belief. Allied is the type of film that’s entertaining enough, but stands in the shadow of countless superior films of the genre.