Film Review: Allied

allied 2016 movie poster one sheetIt’s 1942 and World War II is raging almost everywhere on the planet. Allied spy Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachutes into occupied French Moroccan city of Casablanca. His mission: assassinate the Nazi ambassador to Morocco. To accomplish this audacious goal he has to meet up with his “wife” and cover Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who has spent the last few months ingratiating herself with the German occupation government and wrangling an invitation to the grand party where the Ambassador will make his entrance.

Max and Marianne hit it off immediately, though tradecraft prohibits them indulging in a real love affair while they pretend to be man and wife on a deadly mission deep behind enemy lines Nonetheless, the night before their attempted assassination, the proverbial dam bursts and they make love in a car as a sandstorm swirls and howls around them.

When Max heads back to England, he requests that Marianne be allowed to emigrate to England too. She’s sympathetic to the Allied cause as a French Resistance Fighter, but who is she really? Max’s superior officer, Frank Heslop (the always excellent Jared Harris) and his team investigate and give her a clean bill of health: she can join him in England as his real wife.

They have a child – during a phenomenal, tense scene as London is being bombed – Anna and live a seemingly idyllic life. Until Frank comes to Max and an SOE official (Simon McBurney) tell him that they believe Marianne is actually a German spy and that it’s Max’s responsibility as a member of Her Majesty’s Army to kill her if that proves to be the case.

Max, of course, rejects the very notion she could be anything other than his loving wife and a mostly domesticated French Resistance Fighter, but there’s a niggling doubt in his mind nonetheless. Some of the things she said when they were in Casablanca, some of what he witnessed, it doesn’t necessarily all add up quite right.

Directed by the great Roger Zemeckis, Allied is a splendid period spy drama broken into two halves: the first hour is the assassination of the German Ambassador, and the second half begins with the birth of Anna and establishment of their idyllic household, followed by Max’s world being turned upside-down with the accusation of Marianne being a German spy.

Marianne (Marion Cotillard) and Max (Brad Pitt), from "Allied"
Max (Brad Pitt) and Marianne (Marion Cotillard), from “Allied”

The production, sets, music, it all adds up to a splendid period thriller, and the story is smart and has sufficient twists to keep the audience eager to see Marianne cleared of all suspicion — or caught as a German spy.

I enjoyed Allied immensely.

Except for two things. First, when compared with the superb acting of Marion Cotillard and the rest of the cast, it was clear that Brad Pitt might be extraordinarily handsome, but he’s just not a great actor. There were many scenes where his lack of deep emotions pulled me out of the story, to instead wish to have seen another actor – perhaps Leonardo Di Caprio? – in the role. The last few scenes in particular fall flat because of his lack of acting chops. The other issue was that the film ended a few minutes after it should have done. Mr. Zemeckis, the last scene seemed entirely unnecessary and Allied would have been better with a classic 40’s fade-to-black just a few minutes earlier. You know where I mean. Perhaps in the “directors cut”?

Even with those limitations and issues, however, I will still recommend Allied highly to film fans who enjoy the lush, classic 40’s era movies and who want to see an actor (Cotillard) wrestle with her identity in a world where lying and being able to sustain a false appearance are prized. This could well be one to watch for Oscar season too.

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