A Québécois and a Parisienne meet in a bar—in French Morocco during World War II, no less.
Even without switching the nationalities, viewers of “Allied” will have a hard time not thinking about Ilsa Lund and Rick Blaine’s classic encounter 74 years ago. While director Robert Zemeckis’ latest patently aspires to be the next—or, at the least, a companion piece to—“Casablanca,” it falls short by ramping up the glamour and abandoning emotion.
Jack Vaten (Brad Pitt), the Québécois spy, gracefully parachutes in a golden desert, waiting to receive the brief for his next mission: be the husband of Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), the French Resistance fighter, and take out one of Hitler’s minions. Eventually, the mission’s requirement to grow close becomes an actual need, and the couple heads to London to form a family.
For a film that is structured around a relationship, “Allied” is infuriatingly rigid. Just like Jack who will later become distant to Marianne when intelligence points out that she’s a German spy, the film never seeks to affect viewers. So begins a domino effect that drives the film: Since only Cotillard is responsive in the relationship, screenwriter Steven Knight’s journey to the expected climax a disjointed one, and Zemeckis’ unfortunate emphasis on style rather than performers’ chemistry becomes apparent.
Zemeckis’ direction can be showy, sure, but the stories in his films carry through because there is either restraint—or, at the least, consciously knows when to fancy things up. “Cast Away” did that, and it was just a man on an island and a Wilson ball. Even when two of cinema’s most-radiant performers are on screen, inhabiting a swanky setting and spy films’ quintessential spice of “creeping doubt,” the production remains stiff when it has all the ingredients and reasons to be otherwise.
But at least the film’s aesthetics is on point. Joanna Johnston’s elegant costumes and Don Burgess’ lush cinematography do their best to liven up the film, but they simply can’t substitute the human interaction that “Allied” relies on. Alan Silvestri’s score, while genteel, has the tendency to pop up at unwelcoming moments—especially when Cotillard is turning in her most impactful reel. Fortunately, however, the latter knows to take a step back in the final act where “Allied” discovers a semblance of its best form.
Well, at least “Allied” captures pure Hollywood at certain points. Where else will viewers see a couple, in their vehicle, consummate in the middle of a sandstorm or see their youngest family member come to be during an air raid?
In those operatic and theatrical moments, however, the film comes to life—even if the result might bring forth the chuckles.
Brad Pitt (Max), Marion Cotillard (Marianne), Jared Harris (Frank), Lizzy Caplan (Bridget)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis (“Flight”)
Written by: Steven Knight (“Locke”)
Music by: Alan Silvestri (“Forrest Gump”)
Cinematography by: Don Burgess (“Cast Away”)
122 min., R
Release date: Nov. 23
6 out of 10.