Movie Review: Allied (2016)
“The enemy is listening”
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris
Synopsis: During WWII a Canadian intelligence officer and a French resistance fighter fall in love while plotting the assassination of the German ambassador in Casablanca, but their love is tested upon their return to Britain.
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Casablanca, 1942, where the fortunate ones through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas… but the others wait… and wait… and wait… But that’s another story, one that takes place in Rick’s Café Americain and The Blue Parrot while the undercover intrigues of Canadian RAF officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt – World War Z, The Counselor) and French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard – The Dark Knight Rises, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues) unfold in far more salubrious surroundings. Nevertheless, the temptation to glance beyond the matinee-perfect Max and Marianne in the hope of catching a glimpse of Rick and Ilsa amongst Casablanca’s narrow streets is impossible to resist. They aren’t there, of course, but writer Steven Knight undoubtedly chose the time and place in the hope that he might capture some of the resonance of Warners’ tough, fatalistic romance.
The world is at war, and as any moment might be your last, it’s necessary to live each one to its fullest. Emotions and sensations are heightened beneath the pall of death, but strangely it is when Max and Marianne are in most danger that Allied is at its most patient. The film takes time to build layers to their relationship, creating tensions and uncertainties that are finally expelled by a hungry, fevered tryst while sheltered in the fragile refuge of a car from a raging desert sandstorm. The intimacy of planning the murder of a Nazi Ambassador which is also likely to end in their own deaths privileges them with a strange, unique closeness that turns to euphoria when they defy the odds and make their escape. An improbable proposal of marriage as they flee the scene accelerates the film momentum: proposal, pregnancy and parenthood are dealt with in just four scenes.
Having departed the picturesque sand dunes of Africa to relocate in rural England, Allied finally builds momentum. Vatan, shows a disrespect for his superiors and military protocol that typifies the film’s problem with anachronistic behavior. Lesbians frolic in plain view at a party, and a semi-naked straight couple tumbles from a cupboard in mid-coitus while uniformed servicemen snort cocaine in a nearby room, instantaneously dispelling the carefully designed illusion that we’re watching a love letter to Classic Hollywood. By now, Vatan has been plunged into doubt and confusion by the news that the government believes his wife to be a spy. Could it be true? Did Marianne ever really love him? Or is his life now built upon a lie?
Pitt cuts a dashing figure in double-breasted tailor-made suits; he looks much younger than fifty-three, and he and Cotillard generate some fine chemistry whilst dealing with the sultry intrigue of Casablanca. But it evaporates amongst the grey terraced houses of wartime Britain, mainly because her character is swallowed up by the plot once the “is she/isn’t she” element kicks in and she is forced to surrender her personality in order to be a suitable suspect. Suddenly, she’s a genre stereotype holding whispered conversations with furtive little men when she thinks her husband isn’t watching.
Despite its flaws, Allied is an agreeable enough watch, but it does itself no favours by actively seeking to evoke memories of the movie Casablanca, and struggles to balance its endeavor to recreate the kind of drama Hollywood churned out by the dozen in the 1940s with modern-day sensibilities.
(Reviewed 18th December 2016)