Mismarketing is a common occurrence. It interferes with our perceptions of pretty much everything purchasable, and film is no exception. Legendary auteur Robert Zemeckis’ latest offering Allied is such a work guilty of corporate trickery. A feverishly tense promotional reel promised a taut, almost Hitchcockian wartime thriller, but in reality, it is little more than a slapdash televisual melodrama, and a bad one at that.
This arduous and tediously undercooked piece follows Canadian Wing Commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) who poses as a Parisian mining executive to go behind enemy lines and complete a deadly assassination plot. Airdropped into the sweeping dunes of Casablanca, he is partnered with his ‘wife’ Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) – a captivating French operative – and together they recreate the traditionalisms of Moroccan marriage whilst hatching a plan to execute a Nazi General. Soon Max and Marianne fall in love for real, and they travel to London to be wed and have a child. However a year into their marriage comes a sour anniversary gift: British intelligence suspect that Marianne is actually a German spy in deep cover. She is placed on the clock for 48 hours, and if their suspicions are proven correct, Max will have to take action “with his own hand”.
From this description, Allied could have – and should have – been a pacy, tick-tock crime procedural rendered in Blitz-torn London. Instead this is pure tourist cinema: safe, predictable, and worst of all, dull. Problems start with the central pairing. Pitt virtually always has strong chemistry with his female counterpart; whether this is romantic, comedic, or intense. It is clear that Zemeckis and screenwriter Steven Knight (Locke, Peaky Blinders) are attempting to tap into the actor’s natural charisma, but they hadn’t factored in a lack of interest from the man himself. Pitt is sleepwalking through this film, barely exhaling an additional breath. In fact he is so frequently invisible in frame that Cotillard’s shadow doesn’t even have to overcast him. She does, however, because her seductive femme fatale is the picture’s saving grace: Marianne is gorgeously coordinated, and Cotillard’s reverence for the role is immediately noticeable. She wears each frame as valiantly as her evocative wardrobe.
Allied‘s biggest issue comes in the form of the script. Knight’s interplay dialogue is meandering and repetitive, and his expository offerings are even worse. Audiences are forever being told things, rather than shown things; favouring point-and-explain referencing rather than action-orientated. When he does pen a set-piece, any sense of tension or drama building before or after lacks potency because the ramifications of actions are never truly explored, merely mentioned. Zemeckis’ direction is largely drab, too. Considering just how fabulously he has controlled CGI effects work in the past – even as recent as last year with the excellent The Walk – he seemingly switches off as soon as his film becomes grander than a two-shot. Images of Blitz bombings and skies ignited with fire and debris are just laughable. Student animator quality. Never at any single point does the airborne chaos actually seem exciting, or more importantly, scary; instead it is just a device to remind us of the period setting. Now considering Swastikas are proudly flying from every flag, and nearly every gentleman is draped in military attire, we hardly need additional prompts of the era, do we?
That being said, the costume work here is fantastic, and paired with the rich set interiors – particularly Max and Marianne’s Highgate suburban home, the dusty local tavern, and the coldly clinical war rooms – makes for an authentic environment. A shame then, that absolutely nothing outside of aesthetics here is either unique or remotely interesting. We instead are subjected to 124 minutes of tonally imbalanced and laborious storytelling which cannot decide if it’s a romance, an espionage thriller, or a period drama. In the end, Allied is a trudging mix of all three. Despite Max and Marianne being united by marriage, they feel like strangers, extinguishing the romantic element. Knight’s screenplay takes more than an hour to reach the German spy angle, ensuring the espionage idea lacks potential to grow with intent and purpose, and the period setting is little more than a backdrop; looking accurate, but feeling fabricated.
Zemeckis’ latest – likely his weakest offering since 2007’s Beowulf – is frustratingly domestic and workmanlike. Like Brits on holiday in Benidorm, this is as cliché as it gets. Brad should go back to collecting Nazi scalps…
Allied opens in UK cinemas on Friday, 25th November