Love isn’t easy for the average Joe.
It mus be massively complicated for spies living on the edge during the heyday of World War II Europe, or at least Robert Zemeckis is banking on audiences believing it.
His latest film, “Allied,” stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as veteran assassins who fall in love during their first mission together killing a German ambassador. After the war, Max and Marianne wed and start a family in Britain only to have their entire relationship called into question when Max’s superior receive intelligence that Marianne covertly works as a German agent.
For the most part, “Allied” is a genre-bending thriller that meanders into a variety of cinematic styles whenever the script from Steven Knight asks for it. The film starts as a “Casablanca”-esque drama that escalates into full scale action thriller before settling into tense seat-clenching spy tradecraft mystery you’d find in a John le Carre novel.
Pitt is his usual award-worthy self as Max, the loyal soldier conflicted between love and country. His performance is more stoic than might have been expected given the plot devices, but Pitt plays it off with class. “Allied” will likely be another one of those films where Pitt doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves as an actor because of his ridiculously good looks, but another actor in the same role doesn’t give half of the performance Pitt does.
He’s well served, though, playing opposite the alluring and mysterious Cotillard, whose Marianne sits firmly on the border between lover and betrayer to keep the audience guessing all the way until the final frames. It’s a nearly flawless performance for Cotillard, whose best film work comes in the femme fatale role.
“Allied” is also aided by several terrific supporting cast members including veteran character actor Jared Harris as Max’s friend and superior officer Frank and a cameo from British actor Matthew Goode as an ailing British officer hiding vital information to Max’s quest.
Where “Allied” suffers most is in its opening 20 minutes, which relies much too heavily on slow moving expanse shots of Casablanca in what has to be a homage to the iconic film about the West African city. Chopping the prologue in half would help keep viewers engaged early in “Allied,” which is necessary for audiences to become invested in the outcome of the lead characters.
Moviegoers planning on seeing the spy drama should not be discouraged by the tepid pace set by editors Mick Audsley and Jeremiah O’Driscoll. “Allied” outlasts this relatively minor flaw to become a solid, worthwhile espionage thriller.
Zemeckis takes painstaking care to ensure his film is one of the most picturesque of the year, often lingering on Don Burgess’s masterfully composed shots far longer than the average director would. Pacing issues aside, “Allied” is a well crafted, meticulous effort by Zemeckis, who draws the most out of a stellar lead cast to develop the year’s most nuanced film outside of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama “Arrival.”
“Allied” probably won’t receive the same sort of Academy Award nominations and critical accolades last year’s historical espionage drama “Bridge of Spies” received. Whether it’s the lack of a name director like Steven Spielberg or the tabloid publicity generated by Pitt’s divorce, “Allied” won’t have the broad appeal among voters.
It’s a shame, however, as Cotillard offers a performance that should be worthy of a Best Actress nomination and Pitt’s lack of a Oscar win feels downright criminal at this point of his exemplary career.
“Allied” does a terrific job melding historical drama and spy thriller to create an often engaging period film in spite of the film’s slow start.
Until the Oscar contenders start hitting the theaters at the end of December, “Allied” will likely be the best adult drama available and a must see for those wanting to head to the movies before “Rogue One” opens Dec. 16.