Opening in the UK on the 25th November, Robert Zemeckis, Brad Pitt, and Marion Cottilard hope to bring some classic Hollywood glamour back to the spy thriller. Do they succeed? Is the headline above a clue? Find out after the jump…
Robert Zemeckis’ World War 2 set romantic thriller opens with an ostentatious aerial shot of North African desert into which a pair of booted feet descend. The camera follows the feet down in a single take pulling back to reveal a parachute before the figure elegantly lands rolls and emerges as dashing Bradley Pitt. It is a shot that wishes to evoke the grand widescreen vistas of The English Patient, but like so much of Allied it is undercut by a certain visual plasticity as CGI and live action elements fail to mesh in an entirely convincing way.
Pitt is Max Vatan, a Canadian RAF officer and spy. Vatan is picked up in the desert and deposited in Casablanca where he meets his contact Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cottilard) a member of the French Resistance who has infiltrated the upper echelons of the Nazi forces occupying the city. Posing as husband and wife, their mission is to secure tickets to a ball at the German Ambassador’s residence where they will assassinate him. Vatan estimates their chances as 60%… that they won’t escape alive.
In this first act the film is at its most entertaining. Cottilard gets to wear a series of fabulous outfits (her desert combat gear looks like it was designed by Christian Dior). Pitt gets to sport a tuxedo and play Bond. There are snarling Nazi officers, parties, and glamour. It all leads up to an exciting shoot out at the Ambassador’s party (presumably over the disgraceful lack of Ferrero Rocher).
Thrown together in a near suicide mission, the pair fall into a relationship that goes beyond the roles they are playing and becomes physically and emotionally intimate. When the film moves to England they have moved from playing at being husband wife to actually being husband and wife.
Zemeckis ditches the satin gloss and glamour of the Casablanca act and the film takes on the greyer hues of good old Blighty. The real plot of the film is only revealed well into its second act (following an impressive Blitz sequence). If you know nothing you might want to skip to the end now, but the trailer reveals even more.
Now working in a desk-bound intelligence role Vatan is called into a meeting by his superior officer (Jared Harris) with a senior SOE spymaster. Here he receives the shattering information that intelligence has been received indicating that Marianne Beausejour was executed by the Nazis in Paris in 1942. SOE believes Vatan’s wife and mother of his child to be a German double agent. They plan to feed her some false intel, which if it subsequently turns up on Nazi channels will prove her guilt and Vatan – according to standard operating procedure – must then execute her or be hung for treason.
The film moves into Hitchcock territory as Vatan refuses to believe his wife is a spy and sets out to try to prove her innocence. This should be a tense and disturbing drama about paranoia within a marriage with the added spice of WW2 espionage. However, despite a good script by Stephen Knight and Zemeckis peppering the film with De Palma-esque visual flourishes (a sex scene in a car is ludicrously but entertainingly shot with a constantly swirling camera) the film deflates when it should be building up a pressure cooker atmosphere.
Where is the slow leak sapping the thrills out of Allied? Two problems are most apparent. Firstly, Cottilard’s character is far more engaging than Pitt’s, but the plot contrivances of the film’s second half mostly sideline her so that the hunky hero can go off on various exciting missions (one of which involving a sneaky overnight trip to France truly stretches credulity). Allied is a knowingly cheesy, high production-value potboiler but Cottilard gives her all in a sassy and sexy performance that is genuinely fun. The film could have possibly have shrugged off this flaw as a mere flesh wound, but the second problem is a mortal injury. Pitt is absolutely terrible in this.
Earlier in this review I mentioned the opening shot being an uneasy mix of CGI and live action, but I may be wrong about that because Pitt’s performance is so completely blank he often looks like one of the creepy glassy eyed synthespians of Zemeckis’ mo-cap experiments The Polar Express and Beowulf. He looks like he’s made of wax, like he’s been subject to a less than convincing CGI face peel.
The film might have worked had the roles been reversed and Cottilard’s character made to investigate her husband for being a double agent. Then Pitt’s ever-present stoical scowl and lack of emotion might have made some sense. Instead Pitt seems like a man who has been dipped in a vat of Mr Sheen and then polished with an industrial sander. The lacquer in his hair makes him look like an original box fresh Action Man, but frankly a plastic doll would have been better in the part. I’m not sure I can imagine an actor who could have damaged the film more seriously, hell Adam Sandler would probably have been better.
It’s a dreadful performance and it kills the film stone dead. Contrary to what tabloid gossip might have you expect (sound the elephant in the room klaxon) the stars have no visible chemistry whatsoever. She’s fire. He’s ice. Together they are lukewarm water (to misquote Derek Smalls). I don’t want to indulge the dirt digging, but let’s just say it looks like Brad Pitt’s mind was elsewhere when they were making this.
Allied is not unentertaining, but for a film with Zemeckis behind the camera, Stephen Knight scripting, and starring Pitt and Cottilard it ought to be much better than something destined to be primarily enjoyed on long haul flights.