Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Simon, McBurney, August Diehl, Matthew Goode, Thierry Frémont, Iain Batchelor, Marion Bailey, Anton Lesser
MPAA Rating: (for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use)
Running Time: 2:04
Release Date: 11/23/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 22, 2016
Allied concerns a romance forged in the anxiety of planning a political assassination and a family formed in the fires of the Blitz in London. As one might expect from this description, the movie is not a subtle one, because these are not subtle times in which the characters find themselves. Set over a two-year period before the Allied invasion of Normandy, the plot is one of killing, chaos, possible betrayal, potential gamesmanship on the part of military intelligence, and a character contending with an overwhelming sense of paranoia about complete strangers and the people he thinks he knew alike. There is no peace until the movie's final shot, and even then, it's accompanied by an undercurrent of the pain that has preceded it.
It's the setup of a promising war-time melodrama, although director Robert Zemeckis seems to lose that notion once the central mystery of plot reveals itself. It doesn't help that the performance from Brad Pitt, who plays the movie's tormented protagonist, is uncertain at its best and downright dull at its worst.
Pitt plays Max Vatan, a commander in the Royal Canadian Air Force who begins the story parachuting into the desert of French Morocco in 1942. His destination is Casablanca (about as loaded a locale for a World War II romance as you can get). His mission is an assassination. His target is a Nazi diplomat. His partner is Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), a famed member of the French Resistance who recently escaped the capture of her circuit and the execution of her colleagues. The two disguise themselves as a well-to-do married couple from Paris in order to attend a party in the diplomat's honor, where automatic weapons will be waiting for them underneath the champagne table.
Screenwriter Steven Knight uses this lengthy sequence, which amounts to an extended prologue of sorts, as a way to explore the nuances of deception. A few details stick out: the way Max and Marianne play husband and wife on the rooftop of their apartment for the benefit of nosy neighbors, how Max obtains a ticket to the party from a Nazi officer (August Diehl) by pretending to have other plans for that evening, and the notion that the romance that develops between the fake married couple might be a result of collective self-deception in the face of odds that are fatally stacked against them.
In regards to this last element, there is the question: Is this new relationship the real thing, or is it just as phony—albeit for a different reason—as the marriage? They consummate this real or convenient relationship in a parked car in the desert, as the uncertain winds of a sandstorm swirl around the vehicle.
Also of importance is the capacity for violence within both of these characters. Max brutally strangles a different Nazi officer whom he spots at an al fresco café (He brings a chunk of bread with him for a reason that provides a morbid punch line to the scene). In the course of the assassination, Marianne doesn't pause to pull the trigger on a rifle aimed at a man that she has called her friend while she has been undercover. The emotions she feels, Marianne tells Max, are real. That's partly why she's good at her job, but there's also this aspect, which means she will ignore those feelings without hesitation if the situation requires.
The entirety of this prologue is strong—tense, wickedly humorous, filled with a sense of fear and desperation for what's to come, focused on acts and the art of deception in their various forms and motives. The central question of the plot proper is also one of possible deception—or the question of which one of a series of possible deceptions is actually happening. To it plainly, Max and Marianne marry after the mission, have a child, and live in London as the war still rages. Max's commanding officer (Jared Harris) and a British intelligence official (Simon McBurney) suspect that Marianne might be a German spy.
Max must plant some false information for her to find. If it ends up on an enemy transmission being monitored by the Allies, Marianne's guilt will be confirmed. If that's the case, to prove his loyalty, Max will need to kill his wife.
The remainder of the story, before the big reveal of Marianne's loyalties, is a frustratingly circular form of plotting, constructed of dead ends and bad cosmic jokes (A man who could identify Marianne as a spy has been blinded in combat) on Max, who has to investigate his own wife without her or the military brass knowing it. The key is how Max registers each new hurdle and the conflict of balancing his patriotic duty with his love for his wife and family. Pitt simply walks through these scenes with looks of vague confusion and momentary frustration, and as a result, there's no emotional and psychological support for what turn out to be Max's fruitless efforts.
The movie strengthens in its climax, although that's almost a given, since it involves Knight directly dealing with the ramifications of the truth and Cotillard's performance, which exists as an engaging mystery unto itself until the character's final moments. The result is a suspenseful, emotionally tough third act that the middle section of Allied doesn't earn.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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