The third in our series of war movies for this month is “Allied” starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. They bring their star wattage to a WWII spy movie directed by Robert Zemeckis. This is Zemeckis’ first war movie. It was filmed mostly in London for $85 million. The screenplay was by Steven Knight who claims it is based on a true story that he was told when he was 21. Take that for what it’s worth.
The movie opens with British spy Max Vatan (Pitt) parachuting into French Morocco in 1942. A taxi delivers his genuine spy brief case which includes passports, weapons, and a wedding ring. The taxi takes him to Casablanca where he meets a beautiful female spy named Marianne (Cotillard) who will masquerade as his wife. Do you really want to remind people of a little old movie named “Casablanca”? That’s some pretty big shoes to fill. The script forces Max and Marianne to have a rocky start in their relationship. Like in every romance ever filmed. She is condescending and wears the pants in the partnership. It is established early that she is a brilliant actress. This will be a major plot point. The mission is the assassination of the German ambassador at a party. To get an invitation, Max has to get past a suave Nazi (August Diehl from the bar scene in “Inglourious Basterds”). The movie actually does the old stunt hands shuffling cards routine. Apparently Pitt was not willing to go to poker boot camp for his role. Before the suicidal mission, Max and Marianne consummate their made in Hollywood romance in a car in a sand storm. Points for originality with that setting.
The assassination scene is surprisingly lacking in suspense and is not even close to suicidal. In the post-coitaling of the Nazi glow, Max proposes and they return to Great Britain to an idyllic life with Blitz baby Anna. Max is back to being an RAF wing commander, having apparently been on a spy lark in Morocco. Time passes until the phone call comes. It seems Marianne is suspected of being a Nazi agent. Max must help ferret her out and then execute her if it turns out to be true. They don’t plan on interrogating her or turning her into a double agent like every other German spy discovered in Britain during WWII. According to the movie, killing his wife is routine procedure for an “intimate betrayal”. It’s in the manual!
“Allied” is not a bad movie, but it is forgettable. It is too old fashioned. And credit to the set designer and the costume designer for the period look. You have to credit Zemeckis for not following the recent trend of defying all logic and physics. That does not mean the movie does not have moments and plot developments that are fodder for “what was up with that?” or “why did the screenwriter throw that in?” discussions. The answer to those question is invariably “because the plot needed it”. I’ve already mentioned Max being put in a position where he may have to execute his wife. Here’s another example. In order for Max to be able to make a trip behind enemy lines for a crucial scene, the character has to be a spy / RAF pilot. This is the kind of credulity straining you get in movies like this. And then there are the plot developments that make no sense even if you factor in Hollywood. Why is Max’s sister openly lesbian? Is that cocaine someone is doing at a house party in 1940s London?
Considering the stars, the movie is lacking in romantic spark. The arc from disdain to impromptu proposal is too rushed. Then we have a similar leap to marital bliss. It just does not feel right. The action does not take your mind off the flawed romance. There are two underwhelming action set pieces. In neither do you think Max and/or Marianne are in any real danger. I will credit the movie with introducing enough red herrings to keep you wondering. However, when the movie is over you will realize you were being manipulated the whole time. It is a spy movie after all. I just expected more than the usual.
I get psyched to go see war movies in a theater. I get my clip board with my legal pad and I sit on the floor in the aisle so I can use the floor lights. It’s not the most comfortable way to enjoy a movie, but I do it for my readers – both of them. Since war movies are rare (except this month), I don’t get to do this very often. For that reason I can’t be too harsh with a war movie I get to see in a theater. It is disappointing when I see a war movie with the pedigree of “Allied” and realize a lot of talent was wasted on a tired story line. There have been hundreds of war movies made, but there are still good stories to be told. Including many true stories of actual events and people. It angers me that the $85 million could have been spent on a movie about a real heroic spy like Vera Leigh, for instance.
GRADE = C