Monday, November 28, 2016

A Reel Review: ALLIED

In his 30-plus year career, writer/director Robert Zemeckis has successfully dipped his toes into the waters of nearly every genre of film; drama, romance, fantasy, sci-fi, the Old West…all of which have served as his playgrounds to tell stories. With ALLIED, he finally enters the war-time genre. Specifically, WWII.

In 1942, Canadian Intelligence Officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and French Resistance fighter Marianne (Marion Cotillard), are sent to Casablanca to pose as husband and wife and assassinate the German ambassador. The two grow close and eventually marry having a child, before Max is informed by his superiors that Marianne may actually be a German spy.

Far from the typical war-time film, ALLIED is a tricky espionage story with a touch of romance. The bulk of the story concerns Max reluctantly having to obey orders to discover if his wife has been feeding the enemy information, making for a fine duty vs. family dilemma for him to wrestle with. Robert Zemeckis guides the story with a patient and steady hand, putting his characters through many “tests” to determine if they are who they say they are. It’s a well-constructed guessing game for Max and the audience.

Character is the most important thing when dealing with the high-stakes backdrop of war-time spies. Zemeckis keeps his two leads, Max and Marianne, at an arm’s-length. They’re treated more like chess-pieces than actual characters, as not much is told regarding where they came from or what they’re all about. This is effective for Marianne as she’s supposed to be shrouded in mystery, but for Max it leaves the film feeling cold. Max is supposed to be going through a serious moral dilemma, but the character is underwritten and it’s hard to feel his emotional strain…even when the explosive finale comes around.

Zemeckis has always made excellent use out of new film technology to tell his stories, and ALLIED is no different; the film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, as 1940’s Casablanca is recreated in stunning detail. On the set, the production design is stunning, and all actors look right at home in their swanky leisure suits and snappy military uniforms. There is an odd choice of using CGI to de-age Brad Pitt, which takes some getting used to (they ironed out his wrinkles), but the rest of the visual effects are seamless. The tension-building scenes are brilliantly done, and overall Zemeckis films ALLIED with a touch of the style from the Golden Age of Hollywood, giving it a very old-fashioned and familiar feel. Alan Silvestri’s score sounds fine but feels underused.

Acting is pretty good. Brad Pitt shows the strain of his situation very well but he’s hampered with too few script pages to really let his character soar. Marion Cotillard lights up the screen and manages to go dark with a single glance, and she has good chemistry with Pitt. The rest of the cast, including Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, and Matthew Goode are all fine.

The plotting and writing for ALLIED is tight and clean, and there are zero issues with story or character consistency. It’s probably written a little too tight, as the lack of development for the Max character leaves the film feeling too business-like when it should have had a lot more heart. ALLIED is a beautiful-looking movie with some wonderful moments, and is strong enough to earn a recommendation; it’s just a few pages short of greatness.


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