Allied (2016) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Pitt and Cotillard in old-fashioned World War II movie

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“Allied” attempts to be an old-fashioned World War II movie, and I enjoyed it to some degrees. During its first half, it tries a classic wartime romance, and this is mostly successful thanks to its authentic period atmosphere and two charismatic lead performers. During its second half, it shifts its gear to espionage thriller mode, and this adds more intrigue to what has been established well during the first half. Unfortunately, the movie starts to falter around that point, and this is really a shame considering its lead performers’ good efforts.

It is 1942, and the opening scene shows Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) infiltrating into French Morocco for a highly risky mission. Shortly after he safely arrives in Casablanca, Max contacts a female French Resistance fighter named Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), and then he is introduced as her husband to several people Marianne has befriended for the mission.

Because they can be exposed at any point, Max and Marianne maintain their disguise even while they are in Marianne’s small apartment. Trying to look more believable as a husband and a wife, they become a little playful with each other while being constantly watchful, and then they come to feel something mutual between them although both of them know too well that emotion may seriously jeopardize their mission if they are not careful.

With top-notch production design and costumes, the first half of the movie did a good job of evoking the mood and texture of classic World War II films such as “Casablanca” (1942), and Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard look as smooth and classy as their surroundings. Although he is a bit strained whenever he handles French lines, Pitt fits well to his archetype role as much as he did in “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) and “Fury” (2014), and Cotillard is effortlessly graceful as a beautiful woman who can be both sincere and deceptive. When Marianne happens to have a short, direct eye contact with a minor character during one particular sequence, it is clear that Marianne genuinely cares about that character she has deceived for her mission, and Cotillard deftly handles her character’s complex feeling during that brief moment.

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After they not only accomplish their mission but also succeed in escaping without getting killed, Max suggests to Marianne that they should go to London together. They get married several weeks after their arrival in London, and then they come to have a little baby daughter between them. They move to a suburban area, and everything looks fine to them although the war is still going on as usual and Max is frequently busy with his military intelligence work.

But then a trouble suddenly comes one year later. An espionage activity is recently detected around their neighbourhood area, and it is quite possible that Marianne is not who she seems to be on the surface. According to a certain piece of information, she may actually be a German spy, and she is going to be eliminated once a sting operation planned by Max’s superiors confirms their growing suspicions on her.

After hearing about this, Max understandably becomes confused and conflicted. While trying to look all right in front of his wife, he sets a deliberate trap for her as instructed, but he also begins to look for any possibility to prove her innocence. When it later turns out that there is a slim chance to confirm her identity once for all, he does not hesitate at all to grab that chance although he is warned in advance that he should not do anything to interfere with the ongoing investigation on Marianne.

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Looking moodier compared to its first half, the second part of the movie is filled with that familiar gray, melancholic ambience shown from many other World War II espionage movies such as “Eye of the Needle” (1981), and the movie sometimes goes a little further with a few notable modern touches. We notice how casually Max’s lesbian sister hangs around with her lover in front of others, and one short but crucial scene between Max and a young pilot reminds us that drug use was a pretty common thing among pilots during that period.

Despite such a nice background setup like this, Steven Knight’s screenplay only comes to spin its wheel while not generating enough tension or interest to hold our attention, and the movie becomes more disappointing due to the lackluster finale which resolves everything too conveniently without much satisfaction. Pitt and Cotillard carry the movie as much as they can, but there are not many things to do for either of them, and the same thing can be said about the supporting performers including Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, Lizzy Caplan, and Simon McBurney. While Harris is stuck in a bland, thankless role, Caplan brings some chirpy spirit into her underdeveloped character, and Goode and McBurney manage to leave some impression despite their very brief appearance in the film.

“Allied” is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has steadily tried various interesting things especially since his Oscar-winning film “Forrest Gump” (1994). While “Contact” (1997) has been regarded as one of the most thoughtful SF films during last 20 years, “Cast Away” (2000), “The Polar Express” (2004), and “Flight” (2012) showed a first-rate filmmaker willing to expand his range, and I was usually entertained by that. I admire that he tries something different again here, but the result is not good enough to engage me.

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