Overview: A Canadian intelligence officer and a French resistance fighter pose as a married couple to assassinate a Nazi ambassador in Casablanca in 1942. They start a new life in London but are soon forced to confront realities of the war. Paramount Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 124 minutes.
Come for the Spies, Deal with the Love Story: If ever there were a film sabotaged by its trailer, it would be Allied. It is clever, though, to sell the film as an espionage thriller since much of its audience wouldn’t attend if they knew ahead of time that this is a romance movie –and a mediocre one at that. Which inevitably means would-be fans will be disappointed in this bait-and-switch, as less than half of this movie is what we were sold. Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) arrives in Casablanca James Bond-style with his mission in hand, and upon entry into a club, he meets Marianne Beauséjour (the always perfect Marion Cotillard) for the first time, and they are tasked with instantly selling their marriage to a room full of people whose belief in this union is the key to their immediate survival. Marianne is captivating, quick, and stunning, and she’s also a more skilled assassin than her faux husband, because–as she explains–her success relies on real human connections. The tension is palpable but not sustained for long. It is in these Casablanca scenes where audiences are expected to suspend disbelief that these two professionals, trained to trust no one, fall in love after minimal flirtation and even less conversation. But it’s Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, so we go with it.
Part of the frustration with (rightly) viewing Allied as a romance is that it earns so little of what it claims, especially in the pivotal sex scene. The catalyst to Max and Marianne’s soon-to-be legitimate relationship feels rushed and implausible despite adequate time—nearly half the film—devoted to establishing what should have translated into a vested interest in these two. The pacing is erratic and terribly frustrating, as it lingers too long in Casablanca, vaguely forging a connection between these two, before asking audiences to care if anyone is going to make it out of this one alive. This half-film build up could have easily been reduced to quick meet-cute with the same result. When the pacing hits its stride, Allied is everything you’d want in a movie-going experience . . . even enough to make the central romance flaws forgivable. But when it stalls, there aren’t enough beautiful actors or costumes in the world to hold audiences’ attention.
Old and New: Veteran Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away) creates a film that pays homage to the golden age of Hollywood through its impeccable costumes and captivating set designs that resemble old soundstages but with a contemporary twist. Zemeckis can’t help but infuse as much modern day technology as he can, and it works for the most part. While a few scenes venture into the absurd (namely the hospital scene during the Blitz), the air raid during the couples’ party and subsequent plane crash make up for any over-the-top earlier CGI moments. The end result is a visually impressive film with storytelling reminiscent of the era it aims to capture.
Is She or Isn’t She?: Allied pays no attention to the broader implications of World War II. Like old Hollywood films, this is a story narrowly focused, favoring peering into the lives of just a few individuals over any grand statements about the moral implications of its battles or even the spies it features. We’re forced to ask: Is Marianne a German spy who would take on the identity of a French resistance fighter to manipulate, marry, and bear the child of a Canadian assassin with the sole purpose of intercepting his top secrets? The movie hinges on the “is she or isn’t she” premise, but the ending doesn’t hold the twist you may have hoped for.
Overall: Allied is beautiful but ultimately empty at its core.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures