A World War Two spy thriller with a modern twist, Allied is a tense, absorbing thriller that could – for me – have been better, with two good performances from Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard.
In 1942 Canadian spy Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) travels to Casablanca and meets with French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), posing as a couple on a secret mission. They fall in love despite their better judgement, and on moving back to London to marry and have a daughter, the spectres of double agents and double-crossing rear their heads, with consequences.
I deliberately kept that synopsis short and removed some key information, as suffice to say, the script from Stephen Knight features plenty of subterfuge. I liked the twist on the usual thriller in that our protagonists are spies who become lovers, even when they know – from experience – it’s not worked out well for others before. While for some the central mystery might be a little predictable, I liked the slow burn as it built to that point. Also, it takes the clever angle of painting in Max and Marianne’s lives after we’ve encountered them, adding just a little extra unpredictability as to their honesty, loyalties and beliefs.
The movie does end quite abruptly though, and I think my main problem was I wanted it to be a bit more fleshed out. I wanted a bit more depth, a bit more time with the characters and their version of the world, because director Robert Zemeckis (he of Back to the Future) excellently portrays the period setting, and constructs a believable (for the most part) storyline with Knight’s script. A slow but tense score by Alan Silvestri marries well with Zemeckis’ direction, especially in some tense scenes dotted here and there, but some of the effects on show (for a man who helped to change cinematic special effects across his career) are a little lacking. One Blitz scene is excellent in its growing tension, but could have been better if not for some shonky effects, while conversely a love scene in a sandstorm offers an interesting spin (literally) on what is usually something more staid. I could tell Zemeckis was trying to be innovative, but some of it works and some doesn’t.
Don Burgess’ lighting meanwhile gives the film a real sense of time and place, from the dusty, bright and classy Morocco and Casablanca through to the dreary, cobbled and bricky drudgery of Blitz-era London. This actually lines up with how the film loses a lot of its tension and fizz once we move to London, despite a bizarre (and quite unbeliveable) sojourn to France ahead of D-Day that stretches credibility. If you see the film, you’ll pick up on this, where everything becomes a bit Inglourious Basterds – it’s a shame, because the reason for going there, along with the terse situation that arises, could have been more believable if handled better. Instead, it just feels like it’s been added for the sake of it.
In terms of other areas for improvement, I do like Brad Pitt as an actor, but sometimes he lapses into a sort of daze that screams “I’m trying to act properly here, I really am”, but comes across as trying too hard. I will admit that he is quite good when he’s confronting the main mystery at the heart of things, especially in demonstrating Max’s inner conflicts, but it’s when he’s called upon to properly emote towards the end that it all goes a bit wrong. Fortunately for him, Marion Cotillard is – as she is most often – the star of the show, her femme-fatale attractiveness enmeshed with a hint of danger, and her performance is what keeps the story, and the plot, going. As in Macbeth or Inception, she provides an air of continental class and unpredictability.
The rest of the cast pales into insignificance in comparison, ranging from Jared Harris as Max’s harrumphing superior to a sorely underused Lizzy Caplan as Max’s sister (a real victim of the film’s brevity, especially in her progressive relationship for the time). Simon McBurney, in one chilling scene – as a representative of the secret services – manages to appear malign, threatening and bookish all at once, while August Diehl (another Inglourious Basterds veteran) shockingly plays…another odious Nazi. Any of these or a host of other characters could have been given more to do, perhaps some more time onscreen, and would have had a bit more of an impact. As it is, it’s only the unnamed spook McBurney plays that really had any impact on me.
Allied at times – and here I’m making particular reference to Morocco and the way it’s shot – is trying to homage a lot of WW2-era movies, while at the same time ploughing its own furrow. I think in many ways it succeeds, but Brad Pitt’s mopey performance, a dire need for some more rounded characters outside the central two, and certain issues with settings and story out drag it back from the great film it might have been.