Hot Take: When Allied is good, it’s really good. Too bad it wasn’t good that often.
How often does a Robert Zemeckis movie miss the mark? The last big swing and miss from Zemeckis was probably What Lies Beneath in 2000. Okay, to be fair, I don’t think Allied missed the mark completely. However, the period romance about intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) who fall in love during an assassination mission in French Morocco during World War II, has some low lows despite some high highs.
The first half of the film works well enough. It’s especially successful at capturing the look and feel of classic cinema. Not only does Zemeckis transport you back to WWII, he transports you back to a time when films were different. It feels old fashioned in a way that would only be improved by stripping the film of its color and offering the film in black & white. It doesn’t go that far but if it did, it would work. For the first half, anyway.
Once Vatan and Beausejour move on from their mission where they pretend to be husband and wife, the pair actually fall in love and become actual husband and wife. That’s where the film takes an odd turn. For some reason, Pitt (as Vatan) is stripped completely of his usual charisma. Now 52, his perfect, almost wrinkle-free face is actually a little unnerving. Why doesn’t this guy age? Cotillard holds her own next to Pitt which is no surprise as the decorated foreign film star is transferring well to U.S. films. If only the movie were better, she could have had a shot at her third Academy Award nomination and second win (Cotillard won for her role in La Vie en Rose in 2007). However, the pair don’t have the best chemistry which sometimes sabotages the romantic storyline.
As the story moves from Casablanca to London where the couple end up getting married and having a baby together, the movie takes on a more contemporary feel. The birth scene is especially unusual as the baby ends up getting delivered underneath a sky ablaze with aerial combat between the Germans and the Allied forces. As the movie develops a more contemporary tone, it gets more and more unusual. Vatan’s sister is a lesbian who finds the war great for her sex life, for example. There are plenty of other strange moments in the second half that conflict with the look and feel of the first half of the movie but revealing them would be spoilerish.
The story really gets going when Vatan finds out his wife is suspected to be a German spy intercepting intelligence from him and sharing it with the enemy. The internal conflict Vatan faces is handled expertly by Pitt who has always been one to portray emotion on screen rather well. So, even in one of his least charismatic roles, Pitt is able to convey the emotions of the moment. Is his wife actually a spy? He doesn’t want to believe it and will stop at nothing to prove her innocence. Not to offer up too much of a spoiler but security was pretty lax at military air bases in London in the ’40s.
Allied ends up being half a good movie. The other half reaches absurd heights. It makes it interesting to talk about but not always interesting to watch. It’s a rare misstep for Pitt who eventually gets into the emotions of the role but never seems quite himself. It’s a rare misfire for Zemeckis, too. He manages to make a pretty film but one that due to tonal shifts fails to gain any sort of identity. Cotillard does her best but without any real connection to Pitt and the inconsistency of the story, her good performance gets lost in the shuffle. Allied isn’t a bad film just one that feels like it could have been a whole lot better. Sometimes that’s worse than being bad.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
The first half of the film takes place in Casablanca and there’s a definite attempt to pay homage to the classic film of the same name. It’s where the film does its best work.
There are times when it appears the French actress is aware there’s no connection between her and Pitt but she makes the best of it.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
Going through the motions doesn’t work for this usually spot-on thespian. Unless his personal troubles date back to earlier this year, we can’t even blame Pitt’s lack of connection to the role on his pending divorce from Angelina Jolie as the film was shot between February and May and their problems didn’t come to light until September.
- That Party Scene (The London One)
Here’s where the film completely sheds its classic cinema homage and heads down a surreal, misguided path. I’m not sure what this scene is supposed to accomplish but it feels completely out of place.