'Allied' Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
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Brad Pitt is starring in an action/romance movie where he doesn't know if he can trust his wife, not long after a real life and highly publicized separation that was surrounded by rumors of infidelity. However, Allied is not Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Pitt and Marion Cotillard are not the Pitt and Angelina Jolie of old. That does make it less distracting to enjoy Allied on its own terms, yet other factors let Pitt and Cotillard down despite their best efforts.

In 1942, Allied intelligence officer Max parachutes into French Morocco, for a mission where he is assigned to pose as the husband of undercover Resistance spy Marianne. As they prepare to get into a party and ultimately assassinate a German ambassador, their pretend feelings naturally become real. In fact, Max then brings Marianne back to London to make her his wife for real, settling down with a daughter and desk work. But in 1944, Max is suddenly bombarded with accusations that Marianne has been a German spy the whole time, with his commanders ordering him to kill her himself if she is proven a traitor in the next 72 hours. However, Max is unwilling to wait for them to prove if his wife is the enemy or not.

Robert Zemeckis is in charge of this WWII spy/love tale, which is his second recent change of pace from his special effects driven fantasies including Flight. But he still makes use of CGI in one sequence where Max and Marianne act on their feelings inside a car in the middle of the desert, during the most obviously symbolic sandstorm of all time. It is instantly the most memorable love scene in an old time car since Titanic, but perhaps not in a good way, as it either solidifies Allied's place as a sweeping romance or as complete and utter camp, depending on the viewer's perspective.

Whether on purpose or not, Zemeckis also seems to be bringing back memories of Casablanca, if only because Allied starts a WWII era romance in the middle of Morocco in 1942. Not only that, one story told at a crucial moment is all but ripped off from a famous Casablanca scene. Of course, this is a romance where both partners are already dedicated soldiers and spies instead of just one of them, and therein lies the added pressure.

Before duty gets in the way, however, Allied's first act starts by setting up the love part. This is where Cotillard stands out instantly, as she gets to be the lively one and the one who knows all the ropes on what to do. Pitt mainly has to banter with her well and fall instantly in love with her to move things along, which Cotillard helps make as convincing as possible.

After the big/campy love scene, Zemeckis pulls off a switch back to tense thriller mode at the long awaited dinner party turned assassination. Once he moves the action to London, he provides another sequence that walks a fine line between being memorable and memorably over the top, as Marianne literally gives birth in the middle of a German air raid.

While this brings Max and Marianne into married family bliss for a year, it just takes a few minutes of screen time after that for it to shatter, at least for Max. But with Cotillard having dominated the first act, this gives Pitt the chance to take over in the second, as he struggles to keep it together in the midst of suspecting his wife and trying to clear her.

Zemeckis comes through with a few more memorable sequences in the process, although one tense scene in bed threatens to get goofy when Marianne is particularly affectionate during a phone call. Yet an extended set piece at a party gets the balance right, with tension building in between otherwise happy party music and lots of guests having sex, all before another air raid barges in.

As this all goes on, Max's efforts to find out the truth himself hit a few stonewalls. However, they almost feel like narrative contrivances to stretch out the mystery, since one possible soldier with answers turns out nearly blind, another is killed in the air, and the one with real answers is an imprisoned drunk.

In addition, things are also thrown off by the film introducing and then wasting Max's lesbian sister, who is set up to be the only one he can truly confide in about everything and yet doesn't get to do anything. With Lizzy Caplan playing her, it seems to suggest she will become important later, or might even be revealed as a surprise suspect, yet the whole character is either a red herring or was left on the cutting room floor.

While Caplan is abandoned, Matthew Goode gets only one brief but noteworthy scene as the nearly blind soldier, and Jared Harris gets to breathe down Max’s neck as his c.o. Otherwise, this is entirely Pitt and Cotillard’s show, which Allied uses to bail itself out.

Sadly, Pitt, Cotillard and Zemeckis are primarily let down by Steven Knight’s script, which becomes all too obvious to see by the end. When the mystery takes over in the second act, plot becomes more important than character, although that might not be wise in a film supposed to be driven by these characters' blinding love.

By losing its focus on the actual love story midway through, Allied pays the price for it when it comes time to give out answers. In a third act where their love is supposed to be so strong and powerful that it justifies some pretty desperate actions, Knight has already gotten too plot/mystery driven in the second act to make that kind of love convincing when it counts.

Between that and not really giving too much deeper insight with the answers, Allied barrels towards a conclusion which isn’t as sweeping and emotional as it thinks it is. Yet Cotillard still comes close to making it that way, in one absolutely spellbinding sequence for her where she doesn’t even have to say a word. Sadly, it would have been more spellbinding if Knight did his part as much as Cotillard does.

The script ultimately undermines Pitt, Cotillard and Zemeckis by underdeveloping the characters and their love in the long run, which makes it harder to buy how everything turns out. Since the film hinges on both the love story and on answering the big central mystery, it makes for a fairly troublesome handicap when both factors don’t have as much depth as they should.

Riding the coattails of Pitt and Cotillard goes a long way for Allied, and almost goes all the way. Nevertheless, with Cotillard stealing the first act and the finale and Pitt carrying the second act, it is somewhat odd that the focus between them isn’t always equal. Putting Cotillard in the background in the second act while Marianne is being investigated proves particularly costly down the line.

With Allied, the journey proves more rewarding than the destination, although more depth and character focus during that journey could have made the destination turn out better. Still, the best efforts of Pitt, Cotillard and Zemeckis, and their more memorable and occasionally overblown moments within, makes for an alliance that holds the movie together as long as it can. However, while the coalition bumps this movie up to a 6 on the TMN.com scale, it is closer to a 5.5.

Wider audiences will get to judge how strong Allied's alliances are on Nov. 23.