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Review: Allied (2016)

Allied (2016)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Premise: Set in World War II, a Canadian intelligence officer (Brad Pitt) meets and weds a French Resistance fighter (Marion Cotillard) while undercover in Casablanca. After a year of marriage, he is led to believe she might be a Nazi double agent.

What Works: Allied is a combination of classic Hollywood studio-era filmmaking and contemporary storytelling and it is mostly successful at that. The movie recalls the noir classics of the 1940s and 50s and there are elements of movies like Touch of Evil and The Maltese Falcon as well as films like Casablanca and Notorious. It has some of the familiar elements of movies of that period but Allied is made for a contemporary audience and it employs some smart filmmaking techniques. The themes of identity and duplicity are woven into the imagery of the movie in ways that are noticeable but not distracting. The filmmakers use deep focus shots (in which the background and the foreground are simultaneously in focus) and there is also clever use of reflective surfaces like mirrors in the Moroccan nightclub. Aside from those flourishes, Allied looks great in general. It’s well photographed and there is a terrific set piece in which the couple gives birth to their child in the middle of an air raid. Allied was directed by Robert Zemeckis who has recently returned to making mature and realistic films such as 2012’s Flight and 2015’s The Walk. Although this movie takes place in the midst of World War II, Allied has an essentially intimate scale. The movie is focused on the relationship between these two people. It has action sequences but they are restrained in a way that suits the film. The most interesting aspect of Allied is the trade craft of spying and the first half of the picture is the most compelling. While in North Africa, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard’s characters pose as man and wife and then eventually become their parts. The film has a smart subtext about identity and reality and the way we conform to the roles we play and how our assumptions create our reality and thereby make us vulnerable. The film succeeds in large part due to the casting Marion Cotillard. She’s well suited to the femme fatale role and she plays it well. Cotillard is able to be quietly intimidating but also alternately sympathetic and sexual in ways that keep her elusive.

What Doesn’t: Allied isn’t able to maximize its potential as a thriller. The film suffers from the miscasting of Brad Pitt. This is the story of a man whose world is shaken to its core but Pitt is never able to fully convey that. Part of the problem is his acting style. Pitt tends to be expressive in an obvious way. He doesn’t have the subtlety required for a movie about spy craft and he’s especially ill-suited for the inner turmoil that this character requires. Pitt is also a movie star and an image of cool, masculine glamour. He’s too strong a presence on the screen. Allied requires Cotillard’s character to potentially be a threat to him but that’s never credible. The weak conflict hurts the film and keeps it from being truly gripping. Allied is also held back by its plotting which never wrings enough tension out of the premise. Once Brad Pitt’s character is confronted with the accusation that his wife might be a spy, the story moves along in a fairly straightforward fashion. His investigation does not careen between guilt and innocence in a way that would keep the audience guessing. As a result of these flaws, Allied deflates in its conclusion. When the truth is revealed the film doesn’t pick up. Instead, it gradually peters out. Allied does not build up to a climax. It just stops. The final resolution of the movie is lackluster and verges upon being a copout. This is followed by an overlong and unnecessary epilogue that is all wrong for the tone and themes of the movie.

Bottom Line: Allied is an acceptable film. It is adequately entertaining and has a few outstanding moments. But given the premise and the talents involved, the film is merely good when it ought to have been great.

Episode: #625 (December 11, 2016)