I’ve been staring at a blinking cursor for too long as I’ve tried to summon an introduction to my review of “Allied,” a World War II romantic thriller.
As I think back on the film, which follows Max and Marianne, assassins who fall in love during a mission to kill a German official, I can’t think of anything noteworthy or patently bad about the film. “Allied” merely tells a simple story in a slightly patchy but mostly competent manner and then rolls the credits.
With nothing to commend or vilify, writer’s block set in.
I suppose my indifference to “Allied” is a criticism in and of itself. Given the talent involved in its production, I was expecting a great film. Instead, its mediocrity left me grasping for straws.
I’ll begin with director Robert Zemeckis, who helmed “Back to the Future,” “Forest Gump,” “Castaway” and a few other movies you might have enjoyed. The guy doesn’t make bad films. “Allied,” however, in merely OK.That’s not to say Zemeckis didn’t do decent work. In less-skilled hands, “Allied” could have looked and felt like a television mini-series. But Zemeckis put together a handsome product. I’m no historian, but I felt transported back to the ‘40s, and Zemeckis makes good use of the wide screen to show off the sets and costumes.
He also occasionally employs clever camerawork, as he does when Max adjusts a bathroom mirror so he can see into the adjacent bedroom, where Marianne might or might not be doing something she shouldn’t.
Zemeckis also does some nice framing that captures the drama of individual moments. In one scene, Max’s superior officer tells him the government believes Marianne is a German spy. If they find evidence that supports their theory, he’ll be required to execute her. Should he refuse, he’ll be hanged for treason.
After this meeting, Max goes home and looks crestfallen at Marianne and their baby, who smile up at him as they play on a room rug. Zemeckis filmed Brad Pitt, who plays Max, from Marianne’s perspective and held the shot for several seconds, suggesting Marianne’s vulnerability and the untenable position into which Max has been thrust.
As competent as Zemeckis’ work here is, the action scenes are just stock material for someone with his abilities and the visual scope of “Allied” is too limited for the subject matter. Essentially, the film needed more grandeur.
More surprising is the dialed down nature of Pitt’s performance. With the exception of two scenes in which he becomes heated, I kept wondering what Marianne saw in Max (with the obvious exception being that he looks like Brad Pitt). Marion Cotillard is a beautiful actress, and I would expect any character she plays to require a little more joie de vivre out of a romantic interest than Pitt’s subdued Max.
The lack of chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard becomes a problem early on when he asks her to marry him at the end of their assignment. “When did he fall in love with her?” I wondered.
Cotillard is a pleasure to watch, though, and she gives Marianne a classic Hollywood movie vibe. Unfortunately, the part didn’t require much of her. I kept thinking back to the complexity of Cotillard’s role in “Inception,” when I first saw her, and wished Steven Knight’s script had provided a more challenging part.
While Knight’s dialogue and storytelling seem like the result of an honest day’s work, his screenplay falls short of providing the foundation Zemeckis needed in order to make a classic.
For a spy film, “Allied” is surprisingly lockstep, and the revelation at the end didn’t come as a surprise to me, nor did it have the emotional heft the movie needed at that point.
Only in the movie’s closing moments did the circumstances of the main characters draw me in.
However, even then, there’s a slight hollowness to what happens, as though the film hasn’t earned the emotions it’s trying to wring out of viewers.
So, am I recommending “Allied” or suggesting you pass? That depends on how much you demand of a movie.
Some viewers will be entertained; others will be disappointed. But I think the one thing on which nearly everyone will agree is that it could have been better. v