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It’s Love And War Between The ‘Allied’ (Movie Review)

allied thumbIt seems as if there is something to praise for making the kind of movie that suggests the phrase, “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.” Allied seems to be gunning for that reaction. The Robert Zemeckis-directed suspense drama is the sort of old-fashioned war/romance story that assumes you can enjoy it based on the straightforward narrative matched by big movie stars and impressive production values. There is not much in the way of enlightened nuance, but it hits the same sort of marks found in the films that inspired it. Does that mean there’s enough to support a viewing of this romantic mystery tale?

a

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There are two distinct halves to this feature. The first tells the story of how a Canadian assassin from Britain’s Special Operations force and a French Resistance agent fell in love, while working as spies in 1942 Casablanca. Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard is Marianne Beasejour. The two meet in an elaborately staged scenario that begins with a parachute and ends in a glitzy jazz bar. We learn the details of their mission and watch them go from inadvertent partners to lovers who are crack shots when the time calls for it.

While a little slow, these scenes mostly work thanks to the chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard. Having them talk spy craft to each other and play up the idea that they are pretending to be a couple in public makes for effective scenes. Whether or not you buy the eventual romance, the film is staged like many classics so that you basically accept what is being shown, as you need these two to stay together. Zemeckis doesn’t try to underplay it either. Staging the culmination of Max and Marianne’s mild flirting in a car being hit by a sandstorm makes the audience sure that these two are going to try and work through rough times.

For the film’s second half, writer Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke) decides to ramp up some Hitchcockian suspense by adding a new twist. New information leads to Max’s superiors informing him that Marianne may be a sleeper agent working for the Germans. He is given false info to leave in open view and will have to execute her himself, it this double-agent accusation proves to be true. Not taking this easily, Max attempts to conduct his own investigation on the matter.

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Whether or not Marianne turns out to be a spy, Allied does little to make the stakes any more complicated than what they are. Sadly, this second half also robs the film of personality. While there is intrigue to be found in coming to learn what is and isn’t true, it requires the stars to ditch the assets that made them more watchable. One could say this challenges Pitt, by having him loose his confident swagger over this, but the actor has little else to work with, beyond pensive stares serving as anguish. Cotillard fares better, but having to play her role more ambiguously, due to the second half’s development, means she has to be less emotional, coming across as cold for much of the rest of the film.

There still is tension and a level of engagement to be found here, but the film does little to stray from a clear path it sets out in front of itself. While made to look like a mesh of old fashioned sensibilities with modern filmmaking techniques, this feels more like Zemeckis biding time in a way similar to his other couple-based mystery thriller, What Lies Beneath. There may be some visual pizzazz to be found in the recreation of wartime Morocco and German-occupied France for an action scene, but it doesn’t make the script any more interesting.

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When trying to echo Casablanca and other classics with the 2006 box office bomb The Good German, at least Steven Soderbergh went all out in making it as old fashioned as possible (older cameras, boom mics, aspect ratio choices, etc.). It was a flawed experiment, but seemed more interesting. That shouldn’t take away from the positives found in Allied, but the film just has so little to say. It has the big stars and the look of something that could seem important, but it is actually much smaller in scope. Allied is a film that tests the limits of love, albeit from a one-sided perspective, but its fancy production values do not increase its shallow impact.

There is ultimately enough here to say the film satisfies to a point and does have plenty in common with films we don’t really see anymore. However, the drama is undone by not being any more creative than it feels it needs to be. Still, the first half is strong and the work done throughout makes the film engaging enough as a whole. Given issues I’ve had with Zemeckis’ recent output for being inconsistent and too into the technical components, it is nice to see him attempt something that resonates better. Ideally this is building the director back up to something more substantial on all levels.

allied poster

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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