Robert Zemeckis’s Allied is the most disappointing movie that I’ve seen this year. With a cast the boasts Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, it’s easy to develop lofty expectations. However, instead of our faith being rewarded, our hopes were crushed by lifeless performances devoid of any chemistry or any compelling element that would grab the audience’s attention.
Some might find this shocking as Brad Pitt in universally loved, but when was the last time Pitt carried a film on his merit? Fury? No, that was an ensemble cast and didn’t require any sort of great acting. Inglorious Bastards? Nope, once again an ensemble cast which didn’t put any pressure on Pitt to have to carry the film. The Big Short? Once again an ensemble. Even in Moneyball, he had the benefit of an Oscar-nominated performance from Jonah Hill to play off of. It’s been a long time since Pitt has been able to carry a film on his own, and Allied suffers mightily because of it.
Now it doesn’t take a film school degree to realize what Director Robert Zemeckis is aiming to accomplish when he shot Allied. Zemeckis is trying to give the film an old-timey feel to it. He hopes that his stylish style of filmmaking will evoke memories of such films as Casablanca. An ambitious idea for sure but doesn’t even come close to the type of filmmaking associated with any cinematic classic.
The film did open in 1942. Max Vatan (Pitt) is a Canadian intelligence officer parachuting into North Africa on a top secret mission in Casablanca. The mission is to assassinate the German Ambassador with the help of someone on the “inside.” He’s to meet up Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), a French resistance fighter who’s made contacts with high-ranking officers in the Nazi Party. They eventually do connect and have to spend weeks convincing everyone that they are indeed a married couple. During this period, romantic feelings begin to be aroused between Vatan and Beausejour. Their mission ends up being a complete success, but during the escape, Vatan asks Marianne (in the middle of being shot at) to marry him and move back with him to London.
We then transition to one year later and Max and Marianne are living the domesticated life with their infant daughter. Everything seems perfect (always is before something bad happens). Quickly their bliss turns into an utter nightmare with Vatan is called in for an intelligence briefing. During the briefing, he’s informed that the real Marianne was killed years ago and that his wife might be a Nazi spy. Of course, Max doesn’t take this news so well, and he’s ordered to help the British Government by leaving around fake military data to see if she somehow reports it back to the Germans.
If we were to judge a film on its looks, then Allied would be considered one the finest films of 2016. For example, the film has a spectacular opening sequence where Vatan is parachuting into North Africa, and it’s shot with the camera pointing downward and focused on the top of the chute. The perspective of the camera gives the audience a similar sensation to that of jumping out of an airplane. What makes the shot stick out however isn’t what happens at the beginning of the shot but what happens towards the end of it. As Vatan descends to the earth, the camera slowly pulls out and see our hero, Max Vatan touching down on the surface and looking quite debonair. Now making Brad Pitt look suave isn’t exactly that hard to accomplish but being able to showcase the vastness of both the sky and the North African desert you landed in truly is. Don Burgess does some of his best work to date, but it’s not enough to save this film.
The writing in Allied is entirely too predictable. While Steven Knight has an impressive track record (Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises), the narrative is bland and lacking any twists that you’d hope in a World War II spy drama. The only way anyone couldn’t have figured out that this film would have the most contrived ending possible is perhaps showing up 30 minutes after the film had started. This film needed the type of writing that would keep the audience in the dark until the last possible moment. Remember Max is dealing with the reality that his one true love and the mother of his child might be a Nazi spy. Instead, the audience was seemingly lulled into a haze of disbelief as the film took one predictable turn after another.
The acting in the film didn’t help matters either. Cotillard (who normally is consistent) gave a hollow performance, lacking any emotion needed to convince an audience that she’s a wife conflicted over her family and duty to her country. Pitt’s performance was lacking in depth in complexity that it almost appeared to be done deliberately. Did he just take the job to get closer to his co-star? Did he understand that he’s playing a spy who falls in love with his partner who might be betraying him after they’ve had their child? This is some pretty heavy material. It certainly some promising material that falls well short of what the movie could have been.