Movie Review: Allied

Slick World War II espionage romance misses out on the crucial sparks

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
With Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan

Filmmakers have often tried to recapture that special feeling of World War II–era dramas, but with limited success. Allied, the new film from director Robert Zemeckis, tries desperately hard to evoke the feeling of being a sequel to the 1942 classic film Casablanca. But trying isn't achieving, and the film in the end disappoints in comparison.

The early scenes of Allied even take place in Casablanca in French Morocco in 1942, with French-speaking Royal Canadian Air Force intelligence officer Max Vatan (played by Brad Pitt) literally parachuting in to meet up with his pretend wife, a fellow spy from the French underground named Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard)

The first act of the film is a desert romance as Max and Marianne are forced to convincingly play house while they plan out their mission. The couple spends lazy evenings on the rooftop so their neighbors can see they are a typical French couple. Marianne is concerned that Max's Quebec accent will sabotage the mission, as it won't fool her Parisian friends.

The mission is fairly routine, with its close calls and requisite chases. The romance simmers at a low boil, with the two attractive stars trying their best to fill the shoes of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

The city of Casablanca on screen is largely a digital creation that is part reality and part an old Hollywood fantasy of an exotic place. As a footnote, Czech computer effects company UPP did the interior of a nightclub, some streets, a dusty desert vista and other elements, as all of the digital houses in the UK where booked up doing Star Wars-related effects.

Another note is that the opening act has a lot of French dialogue, subtitled into Czech on local screens. For some odd reason, all of the German people speak English, so most of the plot still comes across to non-Francophiles. The later parts of the film are mostly in English.

The film's tone changes quite a bit after Max and Marianne complete their mission in the relative sunny paradise of North Africa, and Max returns to dreary, bombed-out London to sit behind a desk. The romance continues, though, as Max, against everyone's advice, tries to bring Marianne to London.

Back in Casablanca, though, Marianne dropped a quick comment that should have pricked the ears of veteran spy film watchers. On her previous assignment, everything went wrong and she was the only survivor — and she blames the people in London for what happened.

The grim and drab scenes of bomb-strewn London are a bit of a letdown after the exotic romance of Morocco, and the film is a bit dull in the midsection, but the plot picks up again once some startling new information comes to light.

The two leads are top actors, and it is no surprise that the classy and glossy retro material fits them like a glove. Pitt played soldiers in the 2014 film Fury and 2009's Inglourious Basterds, and has been a spy of sorts in 2005's Mr. & Mrs. Smith and 2001's Spy Game. He is no stranger to exotic romances either.

Marion Cotillard is perhaps best known for playing doomed singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, but has also been in several romantic and action films.

On paper, it is a screen match made in heaven, but the actual results were only comme ci comme ça. They look good together, but the sparks didn't really fly as much as they should have.

The supporting roles are very strong though, with Jared Harris as Max's superior, who tries to keep the somewhat headstrong Max out of trouble, but has to put his country first in time of war. Something that wasn't seen in 1940s war films was an openly Lesbian couple. Max's sister is in a relationship with another woman, and nobody seems to care too much as death might be around the corner for anyone at anytime and there is no need to be judgmental. Lizzy Caplan plays Max's sister Bridget.

Several other minor roles are filled with actors who have a suspicious look about them, in a nod to the casting style of the 1940s, with one intelligence officer who pops up fairly late being particularly creepy.

Director Robert Zemeckis is known for gimmicky films such as Romancing the Stone, the Back to the Future series, Forrest Gump and Polar Express. He is surprisingly restrained here, avoiding out of place humor and intrusive effects. It is perhaps in that regard his most mature film, working subtly with the digital technology rather than making an annoying magic show of it like many directors do.

But in making the 1942 film Casablanca his role model, he sets the bar rather high and doesn't quite manage to jump over it.

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