Film review by Jason Day of Allied, the World War II film about a man who thinks his wife is a German spy. Starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
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Morocco, 1942: After working together to assassinate the German Ambassador, resistance fighters Max (Brad Pitt) and Marianne (Marion Cotillard) escape to marry and start a new life in London, where he is a Canadian Wing Commander in the Air Force. They settle down and have a child. But a year later, Max is told that good evidence points to his wife being a German spy. He has one weekend to try and prove her innocence or else face having to execute her.
Review, by Jason Day
The old saying goes ‘no news is good news’, but in terms of a film’s box office gross, it could cripple it.
All-round movie-legend Brad Pitt’s (alleged) off-screen trysts with co-star Marion Cotillard during filming of his latest blockbuster made headlines and (if you believe the tabloids) contributed to his separation from real-life wife, Angelina Jolie.
This is the movie in question and it is released nationwide this Friday, so there are a few weeks left to see if the weight of international gossip helps make it a financial success.
But away from such title tattle, what of the film itself? Has director Robert Zemeckis (the genius behind top money spinner Back To the Future, 1985 and The Walk, 2015) been able to marshal the considerable resources at the end of his megaphone and turn out the stunning WWII romantic espionage thriller depicted in the trailers?
Not quite, but he’s made a damn good fist of it anyway.
From the obvious duality of the title, implying the betrayal that springs from mutual cooperation, we are set up for a good old yarn about spies, lies and naked thighs (and bottoms too, as Pitt’s pert posterior is seen during one of the more heated moments).
The earlier scenes in Morocco totter their way from play-acting to real love, are the best in the film and certainly the most beautiful, for Allied is lovely to look at. These scenes are playful and full of teasing details as the couple get to know each others roles and the stage they are playing on. Its also very possibly because of the fragrant Cotillard’s consistently interesting and multi-faceted performance.
From the first scene, with her back turned toward Pitt and us, we see she has no trouble holding court. Her kittenish seduction of a crowd of strangers then extends to her screen husband and of course to us.
Like every great movie good-time girl before her, from Marlene Dietrich to Madonna, she keeps us and Pitt on our toes with a mix of feminine seduction, fragility and masculine toughness and resource. She hardly breaks a sweat whilst doing it (apart from in one scene, where she literally perspires in her efforts to arouse an otherwise taciturn Pitt).
Perhaps this is due to a love of the era and the romantic view we have of the past.
Maybe its the action of international conflict and he likes playing the hero although, as a male movie idol, he is hardly alone there.
Maybe his Freeview is stuck on the Yesterday channel, regurgitating as it does, a cycle of wartime repeats.
Or maybe its just to keep things simple as an actor.
Military men in films are not famous for their emotional nuances but Pitt’s character, despite battling the psychological war zone of a marriage built on lies, shows a distinct lack of emotion
I’ve seen a few Pitt movies and know he is a capable and solid actor, so this more than likely deliberate on the part of the writer, director (and probably the star to some degree) to show the differences between the couple, positioning his leading man as obtuse and professional in direct opposition to Cotillard’s almost desperate desire to break him down and claim him (sexually, Cotillard is far more the man in this film).
Keeping this in mind, it is therefore a mark of the man as a performer that he is convincingly brusque, poker-faced, even glum against Cotillard’s breathless dazzle (note her self-declared skill at socialising, deceiving, remembering the slightest detail and ‘playing a part’, something Pitt’s character is unable to do well).
Thus, after building up his character this way, there is the abrupt gear change as he falls in love and is then thrown into turmoil as his beloved wife’s character is called into question.
It would take a great actor to convey the psychological and heartfelt feelings gnawing at him under the skin of the outwardly masculine, stiff-upper lipped type but, as a merely good and effective film actor, Pitt’s limitations are left obviously and (next to Cotillard’s finer skills) embarrassingly exposed.
Zemeckis’ film, despite the glitter he liberally sprinkles over it, never quite hits the epic status it intends to. There are still some big, impressively cinematic moments along the way though:
- A sandstorm whips around a car as Pitt and Cotillard make love
- She gives birth to their daughter as a German bombing raid destroys the hospital around them
- At their house party, the couple two engage in a number of whispered conversations in dark corners, each spotting the other giving shifty glances to other people. (On this scene, although I’m not up on my WWII LGBT history, would a publicly affectionate lesbian couple at this time be so accepted by so many people)?
For Pitt fans, this is a great chance to look at this beautiful man ageing at an obscenely slow rate. For those of Cotillard, its further assurance that their idol can take her place among the finest of modern film actresses.
Is there any truth to the rumours about an ‘off-screen’ romance? I couldn’t possibly say, but the sparks practically erupt across the screen during their love scenes. But that could be very good acting, of course.
Cast & credits
Director: Robert Zemeckis. 124mins. GK Films/Image Movers/Huahuah Pictures/Paramount. (15).
Producers: Graham King, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis.
Writer: Steven Knight.
Camera: Don Burgess.
Music: Alan Silvestri.
Sets: Gary Freeman.
Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Matthew Goode, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan, Anton Lesser.