Brad Pitt appears to be making this World War II thing a bit of a niche. In recent years he went from Inglourious Basterds to the superior Fury and now to Allied. I wish I could say that he’s getting better, but Allied marks a step backwards for the actor in more ways than just the performance. It’s an unfortunate aspect of Hollywood that sexy rumors and scandals sell more theater tickets than a good movie. Hollywood power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have called it quits, and the scuttlebutt is that it was Pitt’s fling with Allied co-star Marion Cotillard that caused the split. I don’t know if any of that is true and honestly wouldn’t care a hill of beans if it were. I only bring it up because if Pitt was having some kind of on-set torrid romance, it’s a shame that none of that passion ever made it to the screen. These two have about as much romantic chemistry as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (Too soon?) If only that were all there was to sink this period drama.
Max Vatan (Pitt) is a member of military intelligence during World War II. He’s dropped into French Morocco to take down a high-priority target. The inside contact for the mission is the famous French liberation legend Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), who poses as his wife. Together they complete their mission and return to England where their fake romance has blossomed into a real one. They are soon married with a child. Both are enjoying a break from the spy world as the war continues to rage about them. It’s wedded bliss until Vatan is told that his wife might not be who she says she is. She might be a plant and a German spy. Needless to say his world tumbles down around him as he tries to stay one step ahead of his superiors to discover the truth.
The first 20 minutes of the film are actually quite good. It starts out almost as a modern-day Casablanca with nice plot beats and enough intrigue and character development to keep your interest. It’s only when they are not pretending anymore that the chemistry appears to fall out of the relationship like a lead zeppelin. The two actors are far more convincing when their characters are faking it all. The film descends into a rather mundane suspense thriller, but without too many thrills. If you honestly want to remain in the dark about the truth, I won’t tell you here. Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t do much of a job hiding things in the trailer. Best to avoid that if you hope to keep up the suspense. Alas, that still won’t be enough, because the film emotionally telegraphs its twists. The best plot stuff gets treated too casually without any attention to details. I expected more from famed director Robert Zemeckis, who appears to have forgotten how to linger and tease his audience. It would seem that Zemeckis took his box of chocolates and drove away in his vintage Delorean for the Twin Towers only to discover a soccer ball with a bloody handprint. The man used to know a lot about storytelling.
The production values certainly bring to mind the director’s talents with a little more confidence. The period work is absolutely beautiful. There is also a scene during a German blitz that features a downed plane heading toward a house full of people. It’s an aspect you realize you likely never thought about before. During each raid the British were trying to shoot these bombers out of the sky, but what happens when a bomber drops out of flight over a city like London? This is without doubt the best few minutes of the movie. It’s wonderfully presented and compelling. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t forward the plot and ended up being the only lingering image I had of the entire film.
There’s little doubt that Zemeckis is a talented director. Here I think he relied too much on his two leads. He gave them a wonderful background but never committed to selling any of it as real. And this is very much a two-person film. The rest of the cast blends into the background as noise, just as it should be. Turns out I would have much rather have seen the kind of film the first half hour promised it could/would be. All of the elements were there. Yes, Zemeckis is very good, but in this case, “Being good at this kind of work is not very beautiful.”