Now playing at a multiplex near everybody:
ALLIED (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2016)
This is Brad Pitt’s third World War II movie (not counting the 2009 short BEYOND ALL BOUNDARIES), but while in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS * and David Ayers’ FURY he was a gruff, hard ass Sgt. Rock-style Nazi-killing machine with nicknames such as “The Apache” and “Wardaddy,” here he’s a suave, dapper intelligence officer. But don’t worry, he still kills plenty of Nazis.
The premise in this WWII tale, which is Pitt’s first film with director Robert Zemeckis of BACK TO THE FUTURE and FORREST GUMP fame, is that our hero’s wife may be a German spy.
Marion Cotillard, whose second WWII film this is (Pierre Grimblat’s 2001 drama LISA was her first), plays French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour, who meets Pitt’s Max Vatan on a dangerous mission in Morocco to kill a German ambassador. Before long, they fall in love and consummate it in an intense love-making scene set in the back of a car in the middle of a sandstorm.
That’s one of the movie’s most memorable moments as it’s heated and convincing enough to make Angelina Jolie feel like her real-life split from Pitt is beyond justified, but unfortunately the film lacks enough of such stunning scenes to make it ultimately worthwhile.
After Max and Marianne get married and have a daughter while living in London and dream about having a house together across the pond in Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada, Max is told by a SOE (Special Operations Executive) Officer portrayed by Simon McBurney (who really ought to play Roman Polanski someday) that there’s strong evidence that Marianne is a spy. If she’s found guilty, Max will be forced to kill her or be executed himself for not following orders.
So Max does what he can to prove her innocence including traveling to a veterans hospital to question an acquaintance named Guy Sangster (an almost unrecognizable Matthew Goode) about whether his wife is who she says she is, and a French prison to interrogate a one-armed drunk to corroborate the same. The latter is another effective sequence with genuine suspense and a thrilling shoot-out, but, again, there’s not enough of this action to really make this movie a must.
One of the film’s major problems is that it looks so phony. From Pitt and Cotillard’s heavy, unnatural looking make-up to obvious use of green screen to the soundstage sets (especially in the rooftop scenes), the whole thing never not comes across like a glossy Hollywood production.
I’m sure that some of these aesthetics are intentional in its attempt to make an old fashioned CASABLANCA-type romance involving espionage and intrigue, but I was distracted by how Pitt looked like BENJAMIN BUTTON when he reached his pretty boy stage, and how artificial the surroundings appeared.
The conclusion is far from satisfying in its predictability and there are some character threads that don’t add up to much like that of Max’s lesbian sister, played by Lizzy Caplan. Jared Harris is used more successfully as Max’s sympathetic commander, but it’s a part Harris could play in his sleep (Harris’ role in CERTAIN WOMEN is certainly a much more challenging one).
Still, ALLIED is passable entertainment, and many folks will be swept up in its charms, as limited as they may be. It stars two appealing movie stars, who do display considerable chemistry, and it moves along at a brisk pace. If only its screenplay, by Steven Knight, was more fleshed out and there was more authentic grit in its visuals.
As is, it’s a fairly forgettable affair that I doubt will have much traction this season.
* Will Fonvielle of the fine blog Filmvielle pointed out that August Diehl, who appeared in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, also makes an appearance in this film. I consider that a callback.