Director: Robert Zemeckis.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, Lizzy Caplan, Simon McBurney.
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard look the goods as secret agents
in Robert Zemeckis' Allied.
TWO people fall in love in Nazi-occupied Casablanca during WWII as the wheels of the underground resistance spin around them … stop me if you’ve seen this one before.
No, this isn't Michael Curtiz’s 1942 classic. Nor is iconic director Zemeckis silly enough to attempt a remake (pity the fool who tries that one). But if we’re going to talk about, well, what I was just writing about in the intro, then it’s hard not to think of Bogart and Bergman locking eyes in Rick's Café Américain.
It would be an unfair comparison if Zemeckis’ Allied wasn’t trying to recall the war films and noir thrillers of the Casablanca era (it’s an unfair comparison for any film, really – Casablanca is damned near perfect). Naturally, Allied ain’t no Casablanca. It’s a steadily improving who-can-you-trust drama, weighed down by being strangely dreary and chemistry-free for too much of its runtime.
Pitt and Cotillard play Max and Marianne – two Allied operatives masquerading as husband and wife in Casablanca as they prepare to assassinate a German dignitary. During their short time together, romance blossoms and on the completion of their mission they flee to England and marry.
But Max’s superiors in British Intelligence suspect Marianne is a double agent, secretly passing messages to the Nazis.
This key plot twist (which is part of all the promotion material for the film, so it’s not a spoiler) takes an hour to arrive and it’s only at this point things kick into gear. Prior to this the film struggles to take off thanks to Pitt and Cotillard’s inability to spark off each other. When they finally get it on in a sandstorm sex scene, it’s unconvincing at best and unintentionally amusing at worst.
Pitt is cool and aloof through the first half of the film and Cotillard is vivacious and charming, but as a pair they don’t work. They’re not aided by a distinct lack of thrills in the first half, despite them staging a daring assassination in enemy territory. The few close calls they have are dodged too quickly, creating a dearth of tension.
On the other side of the plot twist, things improve dramatically. The tension increases as there is more at stake, the married Max and Marianne have far more chemistry, Pitt and Cotillard’s performance get even better, and the first half of the film goes up a notch in hindsight. Allied finally gets a sense of purpose and its set-up starts to pay off.
It’s not all plain sailing in the second half though. The script by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, The Hundred-Foot Journey) tends to the overwrought and melodramatic on occasion, yet oddly some of the big moments feel a little underdone.
The film’s big climax is well handled though and includes one beautiful rain-soaked panning shot that effectively closes the final chapter (before the obligatory epilogue). That shot is also emblematic of the film itself – there are moments of brilliance dotted throughout that help Allied overcome enough of its shortcomings to make it predominantly watchable.
Unfortunately for Zemeckis, it’s another imperfect addition to his CV. After the disappointing The Walk, the lopsided Flight, and his creepy dead-eyed motion capture trilogy (Beowulf, The Polar Express, and A Christmas Carol), it seems the talented director is getting further and further from his halcyon days. Nor will this pop up on Pitt or Cotillard’s ‘best of’ lists.
All in all, it’s an okay film from a raft of talented people renowned for films much better than this.