I am a director, playwright, and theatre critic with a Masters in Writing for Performance. You can check out my my portfolio and musings at www.samsaradunston.blogspot.com.au
Play it again, Zemeckis
Allied is a World War II Romance of the style we have not seen come out of Hollywood since the middle of the last century. Featuring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, this movie strongly references the 1942 classic Casablanca.
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
The story is based around two spies - Max Vatan (Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) - who find themselves working together on an operation in Casablanca and posing as husband and wife. Everything about these opening scenes are unabashedly referential to the 1942 movie, from the cinematography, the colour grading which references film noir, and the second unit cinematography. Lacking subtlety, but highly referential is the dust storm surrounding the spies as they break protocol and have sex because they may die the next day.
Pitt and Cotillard also base their characters on Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Unfortunately, Pitt's version of reserve lacks the depth and complexity Bogart manages and there is no chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard, although Cotillard works hard to soften Pitt's robotic performance. Director Robert Zemeckis has gone so far as to film Cottillard with the same luminescence Curtiz used for Bergman and Cottilard does live up to her predecessor's magic.
Vatan and Beausejour survive their assassination task and Vatan asks Beausejour to come to England and be his wife. She says yes. This moment stands out as the most unbelievable of the film. I just couldn't make myself believe they were in love. In fact, I had a hard time believing there was any real danger but that may be because I have been spoiled by the realism of war films since the 170's - Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, etc.
The film moves into more comfortable territory once the couple are in London. Pitt does relax a little but I spent a lot of time during the movie wondering if Pitt was trying to set himself up as the next James Bond. Zemeckis has cleverly situated the character of Vatan as a Canadian secondment to the British Army to explain Pitt's American accent.
Humphrey Bogard and Ingrid Bergman
Whilst I had a lot of trouble believing in the start of the movie, curiously I found myself thoroughly engaged by the second half. Cotillard has the most amazing eyes which the audience can drown in and she uses them to devastating effect, never letting us know whether she is a double agent or just what she appears to be. It reminded me of Bergman's comment about not knowing which character she was supposed to truly be in love with in Casablanca.
The Casablanca references abound, including a wonderfully oblique nod to the 'Marseillaise' scene in the 1942 movie. The ending for Allied has a similar impact to Casablanca as the realities of what needs to happen force an impasse with only one solution. The flip of sacrifice from the older movie is an inspired choice and one which brings the movie into a modern aesthetic.
I confess I cried. Allied is unapologetically romantic and pushes all the right buttons. The nostalgia of the approach seems to give the audience permission to indulge in the pathos in a manner we are not as comfortable with these days. An old world story told in old world ways - it kind of works.
Apparently, the idea for this story came from a 'true' story told to Stephen Knight (original script writer) when he was 21. The story may be true but the movie does not work because of that. It works because it is pure romantic fantasy untainted by modern realism or cynicism.
Despite Pitt's performance there is enough here to make this a fine film to watch and a brilliant one to take older relatives to as a festive gift. Want to calm the waters with mother's-in-law or grandparents? This is the perfect way to head into the holiday family festivities.