Allied is a strange film. Part spy thriller and part romantic drama, it never quite reaches the peaks it is reaching for. There are solid but inconsistent performances from the two leads and it does a great job of unraveling its mystery through (My favorite) visual storytelling. However, the film could have been much more than it is.
Allied takes place during World War II as Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) meets French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) on an important assassination in Casablanca. The two fall madly in love, returning to England to start a family. But their marriage is threatened when Marianne is accused of being a German spy.
A SLOWLY UNWINDING MYSTERY
The story of the film unfolds slowly with director Robert Zemeckis raising the tension with a series of long takes from his characters’ point of view. He never resorts to characters describing what is happening, he shows us through their eyes. There are never crazy, over the top set pieces (Though there are some well done action scenes) to create tension, relying more on a slow burn.
Early in the film Max is on a desert road, a plume of dust in the distance. As that dust gets closer, a car becomes more visible. Max stands to the side, hand on his pistol as he watches the car approach. The camera follows his gaze as the car pulls up and we feel the apprehension Max feels at that moment.
The best of the tension building scenes comes at the end, but discussing it would ruin the film. That said, the outcome becomes inevitable at an early point. The film’s dialogue gets a little too heavy handed with its hints and if you are even paying a little attention, you will figure it out.
However, it does not take away from the conclusion of the film. It is not a shocking twist, but it is a truly emotional outcome. It does not hit as hard as I would have liked it to, as the ending only leads to a missed opportunity. A change in narrative perspective might have been in order here, as the ending suggests that we never got the full story.
THE SUBTLE AND FLAWED ROMANCE
The film’s first act concentrates solely on Max and Marianne’s relationship and because it is not a conventional romance, many may not buy into it. The dialogue in these early stages is very simple, almost pedestrian. There are no sweeping declarations of love or passionate kisses in the rain.
The real chemistry is expressed through looks, gestures and physical touches. The two say so much more with a gentle touch of the hand then any speech could. Max and Marianne are spies, so words are meaningless. They rely more on doing rather than telling.
While this is an interesting choice by Zemeckis and writer Steven Knight, it is also something of an alienating one. The connection between Pitt and Cotillard is very obvious and red hot at times. But the romance buds so quickly that it is never given time to breath. The transition from North Africa to London is surprisingly fast.
A TALENTED BUT INCONSISTENT CAST
The performances are also very good, if inconsistent. Unfortunately, the usually solid Pitt is the weak link. He is not terrible by any means, but his character makes a strange transition. Max is introduced as cold and guarded and Pitt does a great job portraying that side of the character. There is a simmering menace behind that handsome face.
But then Max turns into an awkwardly charming man after he marries Marianne. He comes off as more of a man doing his best to be the charismatic 1940s leading man, but while he certainly looks the part, he fails at it. Which is odd giving how charming Pitt usually is in many of his other films.
This may have been a conscious choice though, given Pitt’s past charming performances. Max is happy for the first time in what seems like a long while and maybe he does not know how to handle it, resulting in what Max believes is the right way to express his newfound bliss. Whenever he returns to that cold character, it is a welcome return. Whatever the case may be, the sudden change in character is jarring.
On the other hand, Cotillard is great as Marianne. Beautiful, confident and the “life of the party” (Get used to that phrase…you will hear it often in the film) the spy instantly draws you in. Cotillard plays her with a disarming charm, but always seems to be hiding something behind her expressive eyes. She is swathed in mystery throughout the film, making her happiness all the more impressive.
Marianne’s marital bliss is truly believable as it seems as though her guard is completely down. While Max always seems to be on guard due to the film’s narrative, it adds to the mystery of the film that Marianne is almost completely “domesticated.” Her character survives the film’s unfortunate tendency to heavily hint at its outcome.
The rest of the cast is decent, but generally wasted. Jared Harris is solid as Max’s commanding officer, but Lizzy Caplan is completely wasted as Max’s sister Bridget. The function of her role is unclear other than to be a token diversity casting. The presence of Caplan suggests her role may have been larger at some point, but as it stands it is completely unnecessary.
NOT THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
There are many moments to like in Allied, but they never seem to form a cohesive and complete film. In many ways, the film is too subtle for its own good, leaving a little too much for the audience to figure out. While it is not an outright disappointment, the film should have been a sure fire thriller considering the talent involved.
SCORE: 6.5 OUT OF 10