Deception Is An Art. Truth Is A Test. Is Love A Lie?
During the height of the Second World War, Canadian Wing Commander Max Vatan [Pitt] is airdropped in to French Morocco. From there he is escorted to Casablanca and meets up with his French counterpart, Marianne Beausejour [Cotillard] who will be posing as his wife. Their mission is to assassinate a key German ambassador and escape. Before the act, the pair learn about one another but Vatan keeps Beausejour at arm’s length. Following the mission, a bond forms between the two spies and Vatan proposes Beausejour joins him in London as his real wife. A year or so passes and the end of the war is near but Vatan learns from his commanding officer Heslop [Harris] and a V Section officer [Simon McBurney] that the real Marianne Beausejour died in Paris and was replaced by a German spy. Racked with feelings of paranoia, guilt and potential betrayal, Vatan starts to investigate his wife, against his superior’s direct orders.
A few years ago we were treated to the cold war drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It wasn’t the first time the source material had been adapted and the 1960s onward were rife with quality dramas about spies and government agencies trying to outfox each other. Yet with an excellent cast assembled, a host of talented crew members and a thrilling storyline, the film was a nice revisiting of a long-absent genre. Everything about the trailer for Allied implied a similar revival, a hark back to the post-war films covering duplicitous relationships and the paranoia that those in the spy game carried with them throughout and long after the war. Regrettably, I’ve seen it all before, done better and setting a huge portion of the film in Casablanca certainly didn’t help dismiss these nagging thoughts. And while I’m jumping ahead a bit, the ending was bloody awful. For all the places the plot could have twisted and contorted itself to, it arrived at a fairly obvious one free from responsibility, consequence or originality.
With the benefit of visual effects and a lavish budget, Allied manages to thoroughly please the eyes. The costumes are wonderfully crafted and the location shift from desert terrain to overcast London affords the cast the opportunity to cycle through a range of interesting attire. On top of that we have a mix of real world locations, sets and visual effects to bring the backdrops satisfactorially to life. In truth, the production design can’t be faulted outside of the fact that the cinematography was a touch boring. Shot like a comedy, everything is spacious and clearly lit, failing to transpose the dark, shadowy corners and intrigue of the plot to the style in which it’s presented. Admittedly, the set pieces that take place in all these wondrous locations are pretty reasonable and engaging but largely void of real tension; for an epic romantic war-time thriller, a lot is left wanting.
There’s chemistry between the leads in the sense that you are shown two attractive individuals, so obviously they will be attracted to one another but as far as actual on-screen dynamic is concerned, I didn’t really understand the pairing. We whisk through their budding relationship via jump cut so any genuine lasting desire outside of adrenaline-lust or battlefield bonding is never truly earned. Pitt and Cotillard commit to the roles, emphatically professing their love for each other despite the mistrust circling them, but even that couldn’t convince me that everything these two were enduring was in the name of love; especially as the endearing moments were so cliché and hamfistedly handled, from picnics in the park to quaint drives on the dunes of North Africa, it all smacks of fabrication (which would be quite clever considering the plot but I have a feeling that wasn’t intentional). With eyes firmly fixed on the two leads, the remaining parts are horribly under-thought. We’ve got the oh-so-British commanding officer, which Harris caricatures well enough, Vatan’s art loving lesbian sister played by Lizzy Caplan but far more brazenly than one would expect in 1940’s England, the typically bespectacled weasel-like official ordering Vatan to potentially kill his wife, which would have been either Toby Jones, Mark Gatiss or Simon McBurney and they chose the latter and an array of forgettable additions with stiff-upper-lip officer attitudes, roguish Tommy banter and devious Nazis scepticism.
But it wasn’t all terrible. Alan Silvestri’s score was a welcome presence throughout and as the film drew to a close, you finally become invested. More than that, this is where Zemeckis stops playing it safe and delivers something gripping, inventive and captivating. To my mind, it was very similar to The Walk, which was largely tiresome from the get-go right up until the titular walk itself which was masterfully handled. It’s almost as if Zemeckis focused all of his attention to how to close the film and let a first time assistant director handle the majority of the film acceptably but without any memorable impact. All up until the final resolve. Which was lazy.
It’s far from a bad film but Allied really fails to rise to the heights of the classics it draws on and frankly steals from. What’s more if any of the core components from the director to the actors were removed, I would say it was a fairly decent achievement but in light of previous efforts, this really isn’t up to scratch.
25th November 2016
The Scene To Look Out For:
As a bit of a double-edged sword, my highlighted scene is both brilliant and awful. Having heard that his wife had worked with an operative in France, Vatan flies over to rendezvous with said spy, only to learn that he is banged up in the local jail for intoxication. Realising he hasn’t flown to enemy-occupied territory and risked his life for nothing, Vatan demands to see the resistance fighter. So, on the one hand, this is a commendable scene behind enemy lines. Creeping through the sleepy streets of France, avoiding Nazi detection is gripping stuff but equally the developments and resolves are so remarkably stupid that any points earned are immediately rescinded.
Despite being a walking cliché, Jared Harris’ Frank Heslop was performed with appropriate gusto. He may wear the ‘tasche of absurdity and bark orders with a few interspersed whitterings of “you’re a bloody fool” but it was credible and acceptable. And that’s literally all I would be able to say about anyone of note in this movie, unfortunately.
“I keep the emotions real, that’s why it works”
In A Few Words:
“A solid affair that pales when memories of the classic Hollywood films it desperately emulates, come to mind”