Shot with a loving attention to detail and perfectly poised to sweep us away, Allied unfortunately falls flat, without making the best of the talents in front of and behind the camera.
Amid the ridiculous media circus that surrounded the separation of ‘Brangelina’, you’d almost be forgiven to forget how big a feature this is. Combining the star power of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as the on-screen leads and the ever reliable genius of Robert Zemeckis behind the camera, as well as the consistently strong work of writer Steven Knight, it’s one of the hottest projects of the year. Combine that with the large Hollywood budget and the WW2 period setting, it was set up to be stormer.
The film begins during the war as spy duo Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and Marian Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) are matched together in Casablanca to act as a married couple in order to complete their mission. Following said mission, they make their way back to London and start a family. However, some time down the line it’s made known to Pitt that his wife may be a German spy.
By far, the opening 20 minutes of the film is it’s unfortunate peak. The two playing intrigue, learning to work with each other and evade capture is exactly the kind of feature that would’ve worked for the entire runtime. Zemeckis’ recreation of wartime Casablanca is stunning, combining fantastic visual wizardry and captivating camerawork. The problem with the fantastic opening is that it doesn’t manage to maintain any of what it promised from it’s prologue to the main narrative. The initial tension between the characters, the intrigue, passion and chemistry they needed to maintain their false identities was put together so well, you couldn’t help but be drawn into it. It sets itself up for failure because whilst we buy into them ‘faking’ their marriage, it’s crushingly difficult to genuinely believe that they fall for eachother. The chemistry shown in the opening disappears once they end up in London, and as the story progresses, attempting to become a sweeping wartime romantic, you can’t help but recall the films of an era lost which had portrayed these stories so perfectly.
That isn’t to say Cotillard or Pitt are terrible in their roles, on the contrary, Cotillard in particular attempts so hard to sell her role as spy turned wife, continuing her run of fantastic roles in the last couple years. Pitt, whilst reliably stoic and soldier-like when called upon, is noticeably less convincing. Whilst it’s clear he prepared for the role, swathes of his lines in the first third are in French, he doesn’t convince as a husband desperately in love with his wife, so much so that he would go to great lengths to prove her innocence. The rest of the supporting cast, including Jared Harris, Lizzie Caplan and the terribly underused talents of Matthew Goode and Simon McBurney are all perfectly fine in their roles, but like the two leads, don’t do much to elevate the narrative.
Robert Zemeckis has always been known for his attention to detail and incredible talent behind the camera. His strength for visuals has never been questioned and he carries on that trend here. The painstaking and accurate recreation of the era is fully realized and appreciated on the big screen. His insistence on the accuracy of what’s being portrayed, similarly evident in his last feature The Walk, pays off in a visual immersion into the times. That being said, sometimes it does feel too glossy. Shot on digital rather than film, sometimes the images come across as too clean and lack the realism of other period pieces that have graced our screens (both on TV and in film) recently. The action sequences are, especially on the initial mission, competently and confidently put together and the whole film in general is handsomely framed.
Steven Knight has recently shown, and very convicingly, that he can create and write narratives that find themselves in a bygone era. The driving force behind BBC’s Peaky Blinders, Knight has shown that he can flex his writing muscles despite being constrained to a period setting. Unfortunately, the main narrative that him and Zemeckis have chosen, is one that disappointingly plods along. The set up for the story is interesting enough and the race against time to prove or disprove Cotillard’s innocence, on paper, lends itself to a tense nail-biting thriller. It’s a shame that this is the weakest aspect of the film. The dialogue, whilst serviceable, is too on the nose and straightforward. In fact, the various subplots that surround the main story, such as Cotillard’s failed mission in the past and the head-scratching inclusion of Matthew Goode’s character sound far more interesting than the story we’re having to sit through. Once we’re made aware that Cotillard might be a spy, we gear ourselves up for a turning up of the tension as things fall into place. Instead, combined with the lack of real chemistry between the leads, the script moves along at the same pedestrian pace that it found itself at after the opening 20 minutes.
By no means a terrible film, Allied fatally underuses the talent its conjured together. Viewed as a sweeping wartime drama, it doesn’t have the chemistry to convince us. Viewed as a dramatic spy thriller and it’s not nearly as tense as it should be. As we gear up towards awards season, a feature that could’ve easily found itself in the limelight with the tools it had available, unfortunately will be forgotten by the end of the year.
Allied (2016) Directed by Robert Zemeckis, is distributed in the UK by Paramount Pictures. Certificate 15.