Allied is most compelling as a dramatic spy thriller – less so as a sweeping romance that unfolds against the backdrop of WWII.
The year is 1942 and Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) finds himself on a mission in Morocco, posing as the husband of Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter who’s also under-cover. As the pair carry out a covert operation that involves a high-ranking German Nazi party official in the city of Casablanca, their pretend relationship evolves into something genuine… and about a year later, the two of them are married and living a blissful life in London with their young daughter.
Max’s happy existence is then turned upside down when, one day, he is informed by his superiors that Marianne is under investigation and may, in fact, be a secret German spy. Under orders to execute Marianne himself should she be found guilty (something that will be determined within a few days), Max secretly takes drastic measures to prove her innocence – all the while struggling to not even consider the terrible question: is it possible that neither Marianne nor their relationship is what they seem?
Oscar-winner Robert Zemeckis is a filmmaker who rarely works in the same genre twice and that trend continues with his latest directorial effort, Allied, a WWII-set romantic drama/thriller. Pairing Zemeckis with A-listers Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, Allied makes for a taut and engaging viewing experience – one that wrestles with the moral and emotional complexities of war. In some ways, however, the film’s biggest selling point (the onscreen romance between its leads) is also its weakest element.
Scripted by the prolific screenwriter Steven Knight (writer/director of Locke and creator of Peaky Blinders), Allied is tight and concise in its narrative structure, with nary a scene that doesn’t progress the overarching storyline in some manner. Zemeckis enhances that sense of precision through his direction here, in the process crafting a number of terse scenes and tension-driven sequences that threaten to (and sometimes do) break out into effectively cathartic bursts of violence at any moment. Coupled with crisp photography by Zemeckis’ frequent cinematographer Don Burgess, elegant production/costume design, and distinct variations in mood/atmosphere set by composer Alan Silvestri’s music, and Allied makes for a shiny rendition of an old-fashioned Hollywood WWII melodrama (with Casablanca being the most obvious example for comparison).
The part that Allied struggles with is the romantic story at its core, which is eclipsed by its espionage drama elements. Whereas a WWII movie such as Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution explores the complicated dynamic between two people who (by the very nature of their roles in the war) can never fully trust one another, Allied is lacking in depth by comparison and offers a surface-level examination of a similar relationship set against the WWII backdrop. Allied doesn’t dig too deep into the implications of the quandaries that its characters are faced with either, instead prioritizing suspenseful action sequences and plot beats that are more thrilling than introspective in the moment. The result is a tale of spies in love (and war) that is exciting to watch and beautiful to look at, but is too superficial to leave the lasting impression desired.
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard’s performance in Allied are reflective of the film’s overall strengths and weaknesses. The pair have the screen presence and glamour necessary to make the movie’s sweeping romance look great, but not the screen chemistry to suggest there’s real passion between their characters beneath the roles that they themselves must play. As you would expect though, Pitt are Cotillard have no problem carrying Allied on their shoulders during the non-romantic portions of the film, in the process showing off their dramatic chops – and in Pitt’s case during the impressive shoot-outs and the sequences set behind enemy lines in Allied, his credentials as an action star.
The supporting cast in Allied very much plays second-fiddle to Pitt and Cotillard, but stands out thanks to the presence of some noteworthy character actors. Their ranks include Jared Harris (Mad Men) as Max’s by-the-books boss, Frank Heslop, and Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) as Bridget, Max’s happy-go-lucky sister. Actors like Matthew Goode (Stoker) and Simon McBurney (The Conjuring 2) also show up all-too-briefly, but in what are otherwise key scenes in the film’s narrative.
Allied is most compelling as a dramatic spy thriller – less so as a sweeping romance that unfolds against the backdrop of WWII. What it lacks in thematic substance and a resonant loves story, Allied makes up for with polished surfaces – as everything here (the visuals, the costumes and the main stars themselves) looks great. Zemeckis also hasn’t lost a step when it comes to constructing a thrilling action scene or set piece, making Allied all the more effective an exercise in tension-fueled filmmaking for it. It’s not as strong a character drama as some of the director’s past work (Cast Away, Flight) nor does it tap into the zeitgeist like Zemeckis’ most famous movies before it, but Allied is a perfectly worthwhile option for those moviegoers in the mood to watch an adult drama this Thanksgiving holiday frame.
Allied is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 124 minutes long and is Rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use.
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