Allied, the new World War II spy story from Director Robert Zemeckis, seems to have gotten more attention from the tabloids than from film journalists. Does the film overcome the salacious rumors attached to it or is it just a bad film that needs any press it can get?
In 1942, Canadian Wing Commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), serving with the British Royal Air Force (RAF), lands behind enemy lines in French Morocco to team up with a French Resistance member, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) to assassinate a Nazi ambassador. During the course of their ten day mission, the two of them fall in love and after the mission, move to London to get married. A year later, after the birth of the couple’s child, Vatan’s superiors tell him that they suspect Marianne is a German spy. They set a trap for her and tell Vatan that in the course of their investigation, which should take seventy-two hours, if she is found to be guilty, he will have to be the one to kill her or they will execute them both. Vatan is told to stay out of the investigation and behave as if everything is normal. Will Marianne be vindicated and if she is not, will Vatan go through with his orders?
I had high hopes for Allied. I like both of the leads, the supporting cast is stellar, and Zemeckis generally does a fine job as a director, even though he’s fallen too in love with CGI and effects-driven films late in his career. Unfortunately, this movie disappointed me horribly and the failure touches every aspect of the film, except maybe the score. It’s a shame, because the story is definitely compelling and I love World War II films—for the most part. The production design is great—it’s a really beautiful film—though there were a few scenes in the desert that looked a little CGI fake. The problem starts with the script by Steven Knight, which was shocking because I really liked his film Locke and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Peaky Blinders, which he created. For some reason, though, some of the elements in the script didn’t click for me. There are huge logic holes—the action scene that makes up the bulk of the third act is especially confounding—and I just didn’t buy that in ten days the stoic Vatan was ready to up and marry this woman that he didn’t even know. I think it may have been a mistake to tell the film linearly. It would have worked much better to open the film with Vatan finding out his wife might be a spy and then going back and tracing how they met and such. I don’t know if that would have helped or not, but perhaps knowing they were happy and in love a year later, it might have made more sense that he would marry her so easily.
A lot of the blame for why the film didn’t work for me, sadly, has to fall on the two leads. You can rest easy about those rumors that Cotillard broke up Pitt’s marriage to Angelina Jolie, because I didn’t feel that the two of them had any chemistry at all together. By contrast, when watching Mr. & Mrs. Smith—the film where Pitt and Jolie met—you can practically see the sparks between the two leads shooting off the screen. Thanks to the weak nature of the script plus the lack of chemistry between Cotillard and Pitt, I didn’t believe for a minute that these two characters were in love with each other. Pitt looked positively bored throughout the film and Cotillard wasn’t much better. I like Pitt a lot and I’ve seen him do a great job in many films—you can tell when he believes in the material and I don’t think he completely believed in this script. There are flashes of brilliance for each of them—not surprising considering how talented the two of them are—but when they are together, I just didn’t buy it. Jared Harris is good as Pitt’s commanding officer and I enjoyed seeing Lizzy Caplan show up in a couple of scenes as Pitt’s sister, who was also serving in the RAF—I think a film about her character would have been vastly more interesting.
Overall, Allied has to be marked as a disappointment. It looks great, but is stranded by two leads who simply have zero chemistry and script that squanders a great premise. Skip it or catch it on cable if you absolutely must.
This movie is the way Hollywood used to make movies. They actually had stories to tell, characters to develop, and a plot. For that reason, you actually have to pay attention to the dialogue, not because it is difficult, but because many people today may not be accustomed to doing so. It will probably feel slow. It reminds me today of the better “Classic Movie” channel presentation, except in color. The story is not true, but it has its basis in WWII espionage. Think about this for a moment. A movie with no comic book violence, karate, or fighting that is like you are in a video game. I was tempted to give it 5 stars, just because I found myself pleasantly surprised by the style of the movie. Our little theater has had few takers. Too bad. I think this movie would pleasantly surprise some. It will also disappoint into fighting and violence.