At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Allied “2016”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: War Romance-Thriller/ Stars: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, Lizzy Caplan, August Piehl, Charlotte Hope, Simon McBurney/ Runtime: 124 minutes

I feel it is safe to start this review off by saying that Allied truly is a very different film for post-2000 Robert Zemeckis. This is honestly because while technology has consistently played an important role in the legendary director’s career from the start, it’s arguably been brought more to the forefront in the last 15 years be it his motion capture trilogy of The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol, the plane-flipping drama Flight, or the vertigo-inducing 3D of 2015 The Walk. Yet for his latest, however, Zemeckis has decided to slightly decrease the importance of the tech department, and spin for us a story of love and espionage during World War II that upon seeing I can safely say proves that Zemeckis, even when not fully aided by visual wonders, can still tell a great, small-scale story and with this movie has managed to craft a truly tight and compelling period drama that finds itself aided by a pair of fantastic lead performances.

The plot is as follows: In 1942 Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachutes into North Africa and makes his way to Casablanca (wow talk about a truly not-too-subtle nod to a film that clearly helped inspire this film) in Morocco. His mission is to assassinate the German ambassador with the help of Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter who will be posing as his wife and who has already set up shop and gotten herself into the good graces of the local Nazi bigwigs there. So over the course of the next few days, they prepare themselves for the mission while also trying to establish themselves as a loving married couple so as not to arouse any suspicion. Yet something does get aroused between the two of them despite their professional attitudes, and during their escape after the completion of the mission, Max asks Marianne to return to London with him so that they can get married because he genuinely has fallen in love with her. So we soon see that a year later Max and Marianne are married and living in London with their infant daughter and in as much bliss as one could possibly hope for during wartime. Sadly however this all comes to an abrupt end when one day Max is called into headquarters and informed by a very impersonal S.O.E. official (Simon McBurney) that there’s evidence suggesting that the real Marianne Beausejour was killed a couple of years earlier and that his wife is actually a German spy. Unsurprisingly Max cannot believe this, but the evidence, while not quite conclusive, is fairly damning and so to settle the question once and for all, he is ordered to leave some fake information lying around where she can find it and if it turns up in the next intercepted German communique, she is guilty. Adding insult to injury is the fact that if she does turn out to be a spy, Max is required to kill her and should he refuse or try to tip her off he will be executed as well plus he is not even allowed to investigate on his own during the three days it will take to get the potentially damning evidence thus having to go back home to Marianne and pretend everything is normal (as if that even exists in married life to begin with). Of course as we all know this is a directive that he completely ignores, as Max decides to embark on a personal quest to uncover the potential truth about his beloved wife….

Now based on an original screenplay by Steven Knight who also gave us such films as Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, there is a certain clearness to the structure in this film, as we see that the three acts play with a different kind of tension as well as relationship between Max and Marianne in each one. Overall however, the engageability of the twisty narrative gets the movie past moments where the pacing hits a bump in the road or 2 as we see that the movie starts with a bang and in the process entwines us with our two leads as they play out their various spy games in Morocco. Yet while it is thrilling and clever to watch, this act also does something else that is vastly more important which is that it forges the impeccably vital chemistry between the future lovers. Indeed it’s due to watching them passionately come together that you will be inspired to further engage in this movie as the story rolls along and you soon begin to question if everything that was established was anything more than spurious. Indeed while there is a bit of a drag in the middle, as we see Max carrying out his own investigation into the matter, it manages to pull through and hit high gear in the third act and also prove to be both unexpected and quite potently emotional in its conclusion as well.

Now although, as I said in the beginning, Allied is a smaller-scaled film for Zemeckis, and most of its drama and/or tension is driven by shadowy sequences of dialogue the director still manages to give the film a number of impressive and explosive action sequences afforded by the period setting. Thus in regards to this specific capacity, it’s the execution of the plan in Casablanca that comes together as one of the best sequences in the film. In addition to that however, Zemeckis also keeps the action and tension high as best as he can throughout the tight narrative from Max and Marianne’s baby being born during the Blitz to a terrifying plane crash during a house party and these sequences are shot with such beautiful style by Don Burgess that they all each add a little enjoyable zip to the proceedings for whenever things seem to start getting a little too settled.

Of course, as strong as the relationship between Max and Marianne is on paper, it would’ve fallen completely and totally flat if the people portraying them didn’t give equally as strong performances. Fortunately Zemeckis is also very good in getting strong performances out of his actors as over the years audiences have managed to see the man bring forth top-notch work from such stars of the celluloid as Bob Hoskins (who should have received an Oscar for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”), Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, to name, but a few. Fortunately this is once again the case with “Allied.” as making his third appearance in a WWII film (following the joyously Tarantino war film that is “Inglorious Basterds” and the more grounded and realistic “Fury”), is Brad Pitt and it is safe to say that he is very good as Max as we get a performance from Pitt where he’s appropriately debonair in the early scenes (James Bond himself would look upon his parachuting style with envy) and yet convincingly anguished later on when he finds himself tormented internally and externally by the idea that he just may in fact be getting played like a fiddle by the woman he loves. On the other side of the coin I feel that Marion Cotillard is absolutely amazing as Marianne as she manages to bring such depth to her character that we find ourselves as completely and totally enraptured with her as Max does, but at the same time we soon find ourselves just as confused as he is in regards not only to her identity, but to her intentions as well. Indeed Cotillard just plain and simply does a fantastic job of keeping us guessing throughout and at the end of the day the result truly is another knockout performance from one of the strongest actresses working today.

All in all I feel the argument can be made that Robert Zemeckis’ career truly can partially been defined by the electiveness in his filmography as he is regularly experimenting in new and different genres and styles. Upon seeing this film however, I can honestly say that his first venture into the World War II era is a success. This is because while there’s plenty of invisible digital wizardry in play, Allied still at the end of the day feels like classic meat and potatoes filmmaking and when you combine that with a great director, a thrilling script, two brilliant stars, and a game supporting cast it really truly does, minus a few errors here and there, still manage to come together as you would like to hope it would. On a scale of 1-5 I give Allied a 3.5 out of 5.