ALLIED – Review
“It’s still the same old story…”, but told it a new way. That old story being one of a couple that finds romance during wartime. In the case of this new film, that time is the early 1940’s, soon after the US entered World War II. There have been lots of great romances set in that period, such as THE ENGLISH PATIENT and, of course, CASABLANCA. As a matter of fact, this new film begins in that exact locale. But while other movies would do the final fade-out with its stars driving off into the desert (usually toward the setting sun), this tale’s drama is just starting. That drama is when two people from different worlds are united by a global threat, then soon become more than a couple ALLIED by war.
The aforementioned desert fills the screen in the film’s opening shot. French Morocco’s hills and dunes are the landing spot for a lone parachutist. Soon he’s picked up by a local driving a battered dusty sedan. The driver gives his passenger, Canadian pilot/special agent Max Vartan (Brad Pitt), a package containing finely tailored suits and several bits of I.D. (passport, etc.). Arriving in Casablanca, he changes clothes and heads into a bar to meet, for this first time, the agent posing as his wife. She is French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who has spent the last few weeks setting up their “cover identities” as sophisticated “ex-pats” and has become part of the town’s high society inner circle. This will earn them an invite to a fancy reception, which is the goal of their mission. While they train and prepare, Max and Marianne engage in playful banter, as they try to deny their mutual attraction. Until one day their defensive barriers melt away. When the mission is over, they cannot go their separate ways. Max returns to London where he works on bringing Marianne through the proper immigration channels. After many months, they are reunited and are soon wed. As they begin a family, Max is given a devastating assignment by a “V” agent conducting an internal investigation. This new mission may destroy his new-found happiness. Can he bring himself to complete it?
For a modern film with all the subject and setting of an “old-fashioned” “golden age” Hollywood movie, who could they cast that would emit the high-powered glamorous star power of a Bogie and Bacall or a Gable and Lombard.? Well, the producers have got a good 21st Century version in Pitt and Cotillard. Pitt brings a stoic world-weary quality to the determined soldier. He studies every new person, scans every new setting in order to be in control of every situation. This makes his second act conflict so powerful. Max is not in control any longer. Too much is left to chance, things are out of his hands. Plus the interminable waiting is unbearable.Pitt shows us that Max is only in his element when the bullets are flying. Cotillard’s Marianne is an excellent sparring partner and social guide to him. She’s confident, smart, and unwilling to defer to Max. We understand why she’s charmed the upper crust of Morocco, while learning their habits and foibles. Domesticity doesn’t dull her wits in the least. She can still read Max like a book. They make for the sexiest, most charming spy duo since, well, MR. & MRS. SMITH. The pair is superbly supported by Jared Harris, bulldog tough and sympathetic as Max’s commander Frank Heslop and Lizzy Caplan as Max’s concerned solider sister Bridget, whose open Lesbian lifestyle doesn’t seem to offend a soul.
Following up last year’s spectacular, but little scene THE WALK, veteran director Robert Zemeckis gives the story a classic movie sheen, balancing the mood-drenched dialogue exchanges with pulse-pounding action sequences. The opening mission and a jail assault are true “nail-biters”. More importantly, he knows how to linger on a look of longing or a smouldering glance. Zemeckis somehow makes being stranded in a sandstorm improbably sexy. Of course, the swooning subtle score by Alan Silvestri and the warm lush cinematography from Don Burgess add much to the mood. Oh, and that 1940’s mood is expertly recreated by a score of terrific artists. Special kudos should go to costume designer Joanna Johnston who makes Pitt and Cotillard a dazzling power couple. She glides through the mayhem in a shimmering variety of vintage gowns, while he goes from jaunty beige three-piece suits and fedoras to an impeccable black tuxedo. In one sequence they stroll through the streets evoking the Lazlos heading to the Blue Parrot in the 1943 iconic flick. Steven Knight’s script is particularly strong in those early scenes, while the pace slows a bit much during the last act making the film seem too long (just a tad over two hours). Still, if you’re in the mood for a modern take on a “late show” staple that sparkles with high “star” wattage then join Pitt and Cotillard’s alliance in ALLIED.
4 Out of 5