Sunday, December 04, 2016
Allied concerns a woman who may be masquerading as someone else, and the new film directed by Robert Zemeckis is indeed one type of story pretending to be another. The central action scene, in which Allied agents Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) assassinate the German ambassador to Morocco in 1942, comes early and is on full display in the trailer. The scene is the culmination of the first act of Steven Knight's script, in which Max and Marianne are thrown together in Casablanca; playing at being husband and wife turns to love and the couple go to London, marry, and have a daughter. (Again, this is all in the trailer.) Max learns a year later that Marianne may be a German spy. This is a promising setup, but it's also a smokescreen. Zemeckis and Knight aren't really telling a spy story. Max and Marianne love each other deeply, and Allied is in fact an investigation of whether their love will survive the chance that Marianne is a traitor.
For a film set in the world of espionage Allied contains remarkably little tradecraft after the story returns to London. Max, a Canadian military officer, has some kind of job working under a stodgy British commander (Jared Harris), but until Marianne's loyalty is called into question all we see him do is put on a uniform and joke around with colleagues. Marianne, who we're told is an agent of exceptional boldness, seems to lose all interest in work after becoming pregnant. If the problem with the not boring but still uninvolving Allied had to be summed up in a sentence then it is that it's a film about characters and not about people. Knight's script doesn't give his stars room to maneuver, and even their minor interactions are weighed down by plot implications. Brad Pitt is unaccountably stiff in the Casablanca scenes and then has little to do but fret and worry. It's a dull performance and the filmmakers seem to have misunderstood what we want from Pitt. It doesn't help Max has no one to talk to. Lizzy Caplan is badly miscast as Max's sister, barely concealing her lesbian affair in a way that doesn't seem quite right for the period.
The end of Allied is a flurry of activity. Max has caused one soldier's death by investigating Marianne against orders, and he risks more lives on an unlikely mission to occupied France. Allied wants to keep a revelation up its sleeve as long as possible and that means Marion Cotillard can only sit and wait, being a devoted wife and mother all the while. The filmmakers only seem interested in Max's point of view, and Marianne becomes a more passive character as Allied goes on. Given the setting and stars involved Allied should have been at a minimum much more fun, but this overthought film doesn't know what to do with its ration of promise.