“Heard a lot about you, saying you were beautiful… and good.
Being good at this kind of work is not very beautiful.”
Robert Zemeckis (Flight, Back to the Future, What Lies Beneath, Forrest Gump) displays his directing prowess in this World War II romantic thriller starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard (Inception, La Vie En Rose) as two spies named Max (Canadian) and Marianne (French).
Filmmakers take a refreshing, straight-ahead approach that does not manipulate audiences or insult their intelligence (as active participants). Film lovers can also appreciate the wonderful filmmaking talents and techniques on display.
Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Locke) writes a strong screenplay, which was based on a true story personally told to him at the age of 21. He builds each scene at a natural pace with strong transitions. Deep cover operatives and other supporting characters play key roles in Max and Marianne’s journey individually and separately.
Set in 1942, the film begins in Casablanca, Morocco then Hampstead Village in London, England. Pitt is perfectly cast in his third WWII film and Cotillard displays her usual great screen presence. Max is definitely a man of action and admits his shortcomings when addressed. His reserved façade hides the simple fact that he has the intelligence and skills to “get the job” done in almost any situation.
Oscar winner® Cotillard is well cast (I could not think of any other known actresses to fit that role as well) and magnifies each scene with her screen presence and realistic emotion. “I keep the emotions real. That’s why it works,” Marianne explains to Max as they drive in a car – one of the few places they can be free and escape the reality of fighting Axis enemies as undercover Allied agents and share details (e.g. life dreams, etc.). In the film’s first half, Marianne faces victimized characters directly after some dramatic action. She displays her raw emotions when saying “This is really me as I am before God.” She also plays the part of her uncover profile well, especially when Max first arrives on the scene with her. “Now you’re here. I can show you off,” she says.
Both leads demonstrate their considerable skills without showboating as filmmakers create a comprehensive picture of their lives along with these historic events. Audiences can sympathize with their basic needs and desire to survive. Filmmakers touch on each element, characteristic and motivation that might be useful for audiences. Their spoken narration also enhances the film while explaining key motivations to audiences.
Jared Harris (TV’s Mad Men, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) makes a great supporting cast addition as Frank Heslop, Max’s colleague and close friend and is flanked by standout performances from August Diehl (Salt, Inglourious Basterds) is a standout as Hobar and Matthew Goode’s memorable performance as Guy Sangster captures the war’s pain perfectly while advancing the narrative well. Other characters cope with “sex and champagne”.
Like Goode, Simon McBurney (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) makes an indelible mark in one sequence as a S.O.E. Official (a.k.a. “rat catcher”) while Lizzy Caplan (Now You See Me 2) makes numerous appearances as Bridget, Max’s sister. The remaining supporting cast includes Marion Bailey as nanny Mrs. Sinclair, Charlotte Hope (TV’s Game of Thrones) as Louise and Anton Lesser (TV’s Game of Thrones, Netflix’s The Crown) as Emmanuel. Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland) plays a key, but short role at the film’s ending.
Zemeckis continues his strong visual storytelling including an exterior scene outside a hospital, various shots using mirrors, a tracking sequence from a car and an amazing sequence outside a small prison. Dramatic highlights include a stationary shot in front of a jewelry store and a rainy sequence from the inside of a car.
Alan Silversti teams up with Zemeckis again for the strong musical score that works well, especially in specific showcase, but still sounds a little too modern in places when compared to the film’s setting. Classic songs like “You Are My Lucky Star”, “Flying Home” and “Sing, Sing, Sing” plus several European songs like ““Fais-Moi Valser” (Let Me Waltz) by Edith Piaf and “La Marseilaise” by Thierry Frémont enhance the film considerably. Audiences can also hear “Berceuses Du Chat Dodo” (We Never Die”), which is appropriately sung by Cotillard.
The special effects are very realistic and detailed and even include gunshot squibs. The set design, costumes and overall production design transport audience to this important era. Audiences see dirt roads and deserts in the epic exterior sequences while the interior sequences draw strength from close quarters. The makeup department makes a noticeable miscue in a key interior scene where Pitt’s ridgy, under eye makeup distracts.
I witnessed several instances of impatience from young viewers during the showing in my theater. They started walking out right before a key action sequence then raced back in the theater when they heard gunfire. They were impatient with the pacing of this film. They also loudly questioned what some characters were saying (e.g. Max talking a chauffeur during a beginning sequence, etc.), which ultimately didn’t matter. The story slowly reveals essential information and teaches audiences to jettison non-essential elements (dialogue, implied action involving death, etc.)
Allied has action, charm, hope, intrigue, romance, style, seduction, strategy, substance, tension and, most importantly, closure. The results work well plus a key flashback really lets the audience’s emotions burst through at the ending. Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler