From contributing film critic Andrew Gaudion
A phrase you hear in film every now and again is ‘they don’t make them like this anymore.’ It is a saying that has been repeated a great deal lately, which makes you think that maybe they in fact do still make them like they used to. It is easy to see why it is said a lot more these days, particularly when addressing Hollywood cinema. Most products out of Hollywood these days are designed with the next two, three or ten instalments in-mind. So to have something like a classic stand-alone war-time romance with two glittering stars in its frame, may actually warrant saying ‘they don’t make them like this anymore.’
Allied focuses on two war-time operatives, Canadian Wing Commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and French-resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) who meet while on a mission in French Morocco to take out a Nazi-ambassador. Posing as husband and wife, the two spies eventually fall for each other and settle down (as best as one can) in Blitz-torn London. What appears to be a perfect romance though is soon put to the test when Max’s higher-ups begin to suspect that Marianne is in-fact a German spy. Not willing to sit back and accept such accusations, Max takes the investigation into his own hands.
From director Robert Zemeckis, this is a film which straddles multiple tones as it moves from the dunes of Nazi-occupied French Morocco to a London always on edge from attack. It allows Zemeckis to pay homage to many a classic title (Casablanca, Notorious, Hitchcock in general), while also constructing a paranoid thriller in the vein of 70’s Hollywood cinema.
Steven Knight’s script is classical in the sense that the content of the narrative feels old-fashioned due to its setting and relationships. But this has a lot more grit in its eye than your classic Bogey/Bacall feature. Characters fuck and say fuck, and the opening act ends with an Inglorious Basterds-esque assassination. But there is still room for more conventional Hollywood sweep, most notably during a sandstorm, and a thoroughly ridiculous birth scene during the Blitz.
It all amounts in a film which feels very melodramatic, ridiculous, tonally bumbling, but none the less engaging. Allied particularly thrives once the action takes flight to London and the focus shifts to the suspicions of Marianne’s true character. Zemeckis and Knight clearly enjoy setting up the mystery, dropping red herrings here, a play with perception there, all amounting to constructing an investigation which is played with enough devilish glee that it is hard not to get wrapped up in it.
A lot of why we become so invested in the mystery is down to some fine work from Marion Cotillard. Marianne is a character who instantly floors Max with her spirt of character (and the fact she looks like Marion Cotillard), and it needed a performance that would equally do the same for the audience. From the very first moment that her wide grin is seen on screen, you instantly fall for her, with Cotillard delivering a performance that is exuberant, occasionally threatening, but utterly charming.
Less successful is Pitt, whose passive character doesn’t quite bounce off Cotillard’s more high-spirited performance as it may have been perceived on the page. Pitt is an actor who has always been better when playing a character with eccentricity, one’s who sanity is often in question, so Max therefore does not feel like a strong fit for the actor, despite suitably striking a movie star pose.
This is a less ambitious affair than a lot of Zemeckis’ recent efforts. After the high-wire tension of The Walk, the turbulent Flight and his forays into motion-capture, Allied requires less use of CG wizardry than we have perhaps come to expect from Zemeckis. There are some points where he can’t help himself, seemingly recreating a Moroccan desert from scratch (note: CG sand looks fake as shit). But Zemeckis does clearly have a lot of fun with playing with perception and ticking off the Hitchcock thriller rule-book.
The final act ends in a much bleaker place than one may expect, but you leave feeling like you have had an enjoyable time in the cinema, a suitably thrilling experience, maybe not one which ever feels close to pushing any kind of envelope, or one that will be all that well remembered once the year comes to an end. But for an engaging, and yes old-fashioned piece of entertainment, this might just scratch a certain itch.(3.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: GK Films, Huahua Media, ImageMovers, Paramount Pictures)