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Review: Allied's Old School Beauty

by Eric Blume

The lovely opening image of Robert Zemeckis’ new film Allied has Brad Pitt falling slowly and soundlessly into the North African desert via parachute.  As he walks across the spine of an endlessly long sand dune, the film evokes the luxurious opening of The English Patient and of course the granddaddy of desert films, Lawrence of Arabia.  And Pitt’s arrival into Casablanca, Morocco tees up memories of the Bogart-Bergman classic.  Zemeckis positions us exactly where he wants us to be:  open to the possibility of the pleasures of those highly-romantic, old-school pictures that we truly don’t see anymore...

Allied is the story of two spies (Canadian Pitt and French Marion Cotillard) who are assigned to be man and wife, only to become man and wife upon completion of their mission, only then for husband Brad to be told that wife Marion may be an undercover spy for the Germans.  

It’s an ideal movie-movie premise for a big-budget star-pair vehicle.  Zemeckis not only knows the kind of movie he’s making, but he doesn’t shy away from it or apologize for it, either.  He keeps his two stars, immaculately-coiffed and beautifully-lit, front and center to accentuate their impossible perfection.  The movie is made with intelligence and care, and he’s unafraid to push for a nostalgic emotionalism, without going soggy.

The Pitt-Cotillard pairing is inspired.  Surely two of the most physically stunning creatures to ever stand in front of a lens, these two are also first and foremost character actors who tend to underplay.  Pitt fares less well, but partly because in his now 20+ year career, he hasn’t quite been able to fully harness these sorts of roles that require both his star power and his now-estimable acting technique.  Generally Pitt’s best work comes when he gets to riff on his own charisma (Fight Club, Moneyball) or play against type with out-there enthusiasm (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds).  His Allied role falls in the same world as his turn in Troy or Fury…he brings the movie-star dynamism but forgets to create a wholly original character.  Still, he has a well-modulated slow-burn sequence at the top of the second hour that feels lived-in and adds some weight to the denouement.  

Cotillard, who has clocked in two of the best performances this decade (Rust and Bone and Two Days, One Night), keeps surprising with her versatility.  She’s never been asked to summon the kind of Hollywood starriness she has here, and it seems to come effortlessly.  Zemeckis taps into both her kittenish sexuality and her ethereal mystery in equal dose, and her sheer casting lends authenticity to the proceedings.  She slinks through the first half of the film as a glorious clotheshorse, and you believe her in all elements of her character (as a resistance fighter, a crafty spy, a doting mother).  It’s easy to underestimate her accomplishment here:  she’s fully assured and keeps Pitt on his toes.

Don’t get me wrong:  Allied is complete hogwash.  There’s not a lot of there there, and what is there is ornamental folly.  The story could have been an interesting metaphor for infidelity of a larger scale, and what a man will do when he’s driven to despair by it.  But that’s not what Zemeckis is up to.  Instead, he wants us to go back to the joys that old Hollywood films could bring us:  being swept up in international intrigue and being bewitched by the magnetism of two beautiful stars made for the cinema.  On this level, Zemeckis casts his spell.

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Reader Comments (24)

Pitt can be great but is awfully inconsistent and can be quite bland at times. Marion is a goddess.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Is it heading for Camp Classic status.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

It's too emotionally restrained to be satisfying as camp.

It's more likely the sort of film that will find its appropriate audience over the coming years, as its unfashionable incongruity with contemporary concerns will no longer be held against it.

I really liked it.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterQuincy

You forgot her best performance of the decade, as a matter of fact the best performance of any actor this decade, in The Immigrant. I love this woman, but I am surprisingly not excited to see this?

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Dangerous Woman is my favorite kind of Cotillard so i'll be tuning in....eventually.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

Swoony romanticism is in terribly short supply these days, it will be lovely to go to a film that sounds as if all it is seeking to do is entertain us by having pretty people do glamorous things. It might not be IMPORTANT and I might not learn a damn thing watching it but it does sound like I'll have fun and that's good enough for me.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Marion Cotillard was the main draw for me and she did not disappoint. She gets to pull off different layers to her performance: sexy, enigmatic, and frail, and she nails each one.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St.Clair

I'm looking forward to a Mr and Mrs Smith meets Notorious joint, which is what this is sounding like.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Did not really do it for me at an emotional level, and the movie really rises and falls by that (at least, if it's meant to endure). And the supporting cast is utterly thrown away on nothing roles.



Marion Cotillard does her best, but it's just hard to ask us to sympathize with a Nazi spy. It doesn't help that the film doesn't give her any back story or explanation why she fell in with them in the first place.


But it sure does look pretty.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

There's tundra in North Africa? The idea of a permafrost desert alone has piqued my curiosity.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

This is the kind of movie I would like to go see in the summertime, with a walk down a warm street after, and frothy alcoholic drinks. Then the movie could just be itself.

I loved that Marion spoke English and Brad spoke French. They are hard working professionals. I began thinking that Brad could do French movies in the latter part of his career, if the American roles he was offered weren't challenging enough.

And I liked Brad's unapologetic melancholia in this film. A touch of Jean Gabin, and very era and character appropriate. Marion is, of course, heavenly.

November 26, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Mareko- my thoughts exactly.

November 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Gr8 clip collection for actressexuals.

November 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

I'm not sure whether to be impressed by the audacity of setting a World War ll film in Casablanca or to be offended by the idea. "Casablanca" is such an iconic film, it casts a long shadow. Which is why it's really too bad there isn't a better script.

I will probably go see it because it is fun to see some swoon-worthy cinematography in Morocco with Brad & Marion.
I agree with @adri that this would probably go down even easier on a soft summer night.

November 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Eric - totally agree with much of this. I for one really enjoyed it's traditional glamour. The second half is a bit of a mess but I was totally inside this and swooning for the first hour. which is an accomplishment.

Adri - second on the perfect summer counterprogramming.

November 27, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I don't think there's a tundra in North Africa.

November 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBcarter3

Mareko and Evan, apologies for using the wrong word! I"m not a geologist!

November 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEric

eric -fixed!

November 27, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I will third this topic... enjoyable movie... I would watch ANYTHING that Cotillard is in...

November 27, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Brad Pitt is so wooden and boring. Not surprised that this is a flop.

November 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Eric, I was entirely uninterested in this movie till reading your review. Now I'm intrigued. Classic Hollywood is my elixir.

November 27, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

How was Lizzy Caplan? Was she fabulous? I love her so. Please tell me she was fabulous!

November 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEz

brookesboy, thanks for the kind words. check it out: the pleasures in the movie are big-screen pleasures and it will lose a lot when it moves to a TV screen.

Ez, unfortunately lizzy caplan is barely in the movie...maybe two or three scenes and she has zero to do. seems like one of those cases where maybe there was a character but she got lost in editing entirely.

November 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEric

I agree that this movie could have been about something deeper, but Zemekis made the movie he wanted to make. And *that* movie was still enjoyable.
(Mild spoiler maybe) If nothing else, the car scene in the sandstorm is a keeper. That aesthetic was my jam.

November 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKJ

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