Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode, Simon McBurney, Marion Bailey, Josh Dylan, Anton Lesser
Runtime: 2 hrs 5 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: http://www.alliedmovie.com
Opening Day: 5 January 2017
Synopsis: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war.
‘Allied’ begins in Casablanca, 1942, with Canadian Wing Commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting into Morocco to team up with French Resistance agent Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) on an undercover mission to assassinate the German ambassador, one which requires that Max and Marianne pass off as a French businessman and his wife. The setting is more than just coincidence – by choosing the city which has also lent its name to one of the most well-known Hollywood wartime romances, Robert Zemeckis wants you to know right from the very beginning that his World War II romantic thriller is a throwback to earlier epics of love, betrayal and espionage. And as far as homage is concerned, ‘Allied’ is most certainly deft and effective, even though its allure is somewhat undermined by an all-too stoic performance by its leading man.
Indeed, ‘Allied’ requires us to buy into the passion between Max and Marianne, two professional agents who would, for the sake of each other, put aside their better judgment and succumb to love in the field. Their mission therefore is more than just a prologue; it is an entire first-act devoted to explaining how their imitation of love would lead to genuine love itself, so that we not only buy into Max’s dilemma in the subsequent act but also like Max and Marianne as a couple to feel as conflicted as he does in deciding whether to act out of love or loyalty to country. That the Casablanca-set setup is taut and convincing is as much credit to Zemeckis as it is to his writer Steven Knight; with assured poise, both establish a solid and suspenseful build-up of their central couple’s personal and professional stakes – the former culminating in a diverting sequence that sees Max and Marianne make passionate love inside their car in the midst of a raging sandstorm on the eve of their operation, and the latter unfolding as a tense game of deception (including a test of Max’s card skills by a Nazi officer) that eventually explodes into a bloody shootout.
The change in location from the dusty dunes of the Moroccan desert to the tranquil upscale neighbourhood of London’s Hampstead right after mirrors as much the drastic shift in tone, which quickly but surely sets up the life of domesticity that Max and Marianne settle down to after their successfully completed mission – the birth of a daughter during a blitzkrieg, a desk-bound job for Max at the S.O.E., and a demobilised Marianne becoming the centre of an artsy Bohemian circle in their neighbourhood. That life of bliss is threatened by the sudden revelation from Max’s superiors (Jared Harris and Simon McBurney lending some excellent supporting work) that Marianne may be a German spy, who give Max 72 hours to carry out a series of instructions intended to verify their claims; if they are proven right, Max is given strict orders to execute her himself, as per the ‘standard operation procedure for intimate betrayal’.
There are but one of two possible outcomes – either she is a spy or she is not – and the fact that we not only care about the truth but also hope for the latter is proof that Zemeckis has succeeded in captivating our hearts. In fact, Max’s determination to exonerate Marianne very much reflects our own, embarking on his own series of quests against time to prove Marianne’s identity, even at the risk of collateral damage. We’d say this much; Zemeckis doesn’t leave the mystery open or hanging, but he does keep you on tenterhooks by concealing his cards tightly all the way to a thrilling and poignant finish. Ever the slick, professional master, Zemeckis calibrates both a love story and an espionage plot tightly and skilfully, succeeding in constructing not only a dangerous sense of intrigue but also a genuinely affecting portrait of emotional betrayal and moral ambiguity without ever getting too mawkish or sentimental.
As accomplished as Zemeckis’ method is, ‘Allied’ ultimately soars or sinks on the shoulders of Pitt and Cotillard, both of whom have to sell not just the fact that their characters are in love with each other but also the complications of their relationship. Cotillard has demonstrated more than once her ability to exude a chameleonic presence as well as portray the femme fatale, and she makes Marianne a fascinating enigma while keeping us wondering whether she has indeed a double identity. On the other hand, Pitt remains matinee-idol stiff, handsome and attractive to look at but too distant to immerse you fully into his character. At the very least though, Pitt and Cotillard share a palpable chemistry that defines their erotic and romantic attraction to each other, such that there is never any doubt of the emotional, sexual and political undercurrents which serve to pull them together and push them apart.
That said, ‘Allied’ never quite makes you swoon, but insofar as a nostalgic throwback to classic Hollywood wartime romances, Zemeckis’ formidably staunch and precise technique more than makes the movie an emotionally gripping watch. There will most certainly be criticism of how this is a star-driven vehicle whose characters are no more than gloss, but Pitt and Cotillard are consummate movie stars whose appeal and dazzle breathe enough life into their characters to sweep you away into a bygone era. And with Gary Freeman’s detailed sets as well as Joanna Johnston’s lush costumes, ‘Allied’ is through and through a grand example of old-fashioned moviemaking – classy, graceful and built on the notion of pure unadulterated escapism.
(Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard breathe old-school movie-star glamour into Robert Zemeckis' deft and diverting throwback to the classic Hollywood wartime romance genre)
Review by Gabriel Chong