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Josh Reviews Allied

For a long time, Robert Zemeckis was one of my very favorite filmmakers.  There was a phenomenal stretch during which I felt that he was making movies that were aimed directly at me, at the exact things that I most loved.  Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Contact these are spectacular films that I love dearly.  Every one of Mr. Zemeckis’ films from this period are fiercely entertaining; they all have a fantasy/sci-fi/geeky aspect to them (which I love!) but are nevertheless able to be extraordinarily crowd-pleasing.  They  are the work of a director at the top of his game, someone with a mastery of visual effects (the visual effects achievement of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? cannot be understated) who was able to use those skills to great effect.  But then something happened, and Mr. Zemeckis moved into directions that just didn’t interest me.  For quite a number of years, Mr. Zemeckis went down a rabbit hole of films utilizing CGI motion-capture that resulted in a bizarre not-quite-real look that didn’t speak to me.  (I love CGI animation, but the sort-of-real look CGI look that Mr. Zemeckis favored lacked the spark and energy of any of the films of Pixar.)  I did watch Beowulf, which I respected as a technical accomplishment, but isn’t a film I have ever felt the desire to revisit.  I skipped The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol altogether.  I was thrilled when Mr. Zemeckis returned to live-action films with Flight, but for some reason I never actually got around to seeing either Flight or his next film, The Walk.  Maybe someday I’ll catch up to them, but Flight’s mediocre reviews kept me away, compounding this guy who hates flying’s aversion to seeing a film about a terrifying airline experience.  As for The Walk, I love the documentary Man on Wire so much that seeing a fake recreation of those events didn’t feel like a must-watch for me.  Which brings me to Allied, which was, at last, a Robert Zemeckis-directed film that I was excited to see as soon as I first heard about it.  Mr. Zemeckis directing a lavish WWII spy film starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard?  I’m in!

Sadly, the film is far from the triumphant return-to-form for Mr. Zemeckis that I had hoped for.

Allied.cropped

I will say that the film looks gorgeous.  Mr. Zemeckis’ skill as a master of the visual form is still intact.  There is some gorgeous imagery in the film, from the vistas of French Morocco to haunting imagery of London during the Blitz.  The very first shot of the film sticks out in my memory: a beautiful shot across the desert, which subtly shifts perspective as a parachuting man comes into view.  As the camera pivots slowly, the man appears to be floating an indeterminate stance above the sand.  It’s a beautiful, gentle way to step into the story.  I enjoy the whole series of shots that introduces Brad Pitt’s Max, as Mr. Zemeckis waits a while before showing us Max’s face and even longer before allowing us to hear his voice.  This builds up a wonderful mystique about this spy in the minds of the audience, a clever way to begin the film.

Mr. Zemeckis’ mastery of visual effects is also clearly on display, as the film is filled with seamless visual effects that bring WWII-era Casablanca to life.  There are some more attention-getting visual moments, such as some gorgeous shots of the Blitz over London, but it was the less shouting-for-attention effects shots that allow the film to bring the details of Casablanca to gorgeous life that really impressed me.

But that’s about all the good that I have to say about Allied.  The film is shockingly flat.  We don’t really get to know or care about any of the characters in the film.  Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard have movie-star charisma but neither is able to bring much internal life to their character.  Nor is the film’s story all that interesting.  I’d expected an exciting and thrilling spy mystery with lots of twists and turns, but Allied’s story is surprisingly straightforward from start to finish.

Sadly, this is a film almost totally ruined by its trailer, which I saw several times in theatres over the past few months and which unfortunately gives away the whole movie.  Having seen that trailer, I’d hoped that the film’s second half had some surprises in store, but sadly that is not the case. However, I can’t blame my disappointment in Allied entirely on the film’s trailer.  Although the trailer does blow the huge mid-movie twist, I actually enjoyed the first half of the film, even though I knew that twist was coming.  You’d think, having been spoiled by the trailer as to that big twist, that I would be impatient during the film’s first half, waiting for that twist to come so as to get to the parts of the film I didn’t know about.  And yet, even knowing what was coming, I quite enjoyed the first half.  I really liked the experience of being in WWII-era Casablanca, watching these two spies at work and watching their relationship grow.  All of that stuff was a lot of fun.

Then we get to the mid-movie twist, which feels like it’s the whole reason for making this movie and telling this story.  You’d think it would be at this point that the film would really take off, shifting the story up into a new and more intense level.  And yet, I found the second half of the film to be surprisingly boring.

For those interested in a SPOILER-filled analysis, please continue.  For everyone else, know that Allied is mediocre entertainment.  It certainly has moments that are enjoyable, but in the end I felt it fell flat and the story being told didn’t amount to much.

OK, to discuss the second half of the film…

So, as I commented above, the trailers spoiled the twist that, after the war, with Max and Marianne married and living with their baby in London, the British military inform Max that they suspect that his wife is a Nazi spy.  I wish I had gone into the film without knowing that, but as I wrote above, I still enjoyed the film’s first half even knowing what was coming.  Once that twist finally arrived, though, the movie is basically over.  Yes, there is still half of the film’s run-time to go, but nothing happens of much significance.  Other than one obvious misdirect towards Max’s sister (played by Lizzy Caplan), we follow a straightforward path as we see Max trying to decide whether or not he trusts his wife and trying to learn the truth about her.  But in the end, there aren’t any significant twists or turns; everything winds up being exactly as it seems and then the movie ends.  It’s weird and bizarrely anticlimactic.

Unfortunately, by trying to create suspense as to the truth about Marianne, the film shoots itself in the foot by sidelining one of its key assets, Marion Cotillard.  Because the post-revelation second-half of the film is played entirely from Max’s point-of-view, Marianne almost entirely drops out of the story.  She appears in some scenes, sure, but only from Max’s now-distant viewpoint (as Max now feels estranged from her).  We never get any sense of what is going on in Marianne’s head, how she feels about the situation, why she takes the actions that she does.  I completely understand to make the second half of the film about the mystery as to the truth behind her loyalty, but for that to have worked the film needed to have succeeded in making Max’s suspense and paranoia more emotionally affecting for the audience, and the film also needed to have better stuck the landing of explaining what was really going on.  Since the film does neither, I’d have preferred had they dropped the mystery and instead allowed Marianne to be a more equal player in the second half, allowing us to understand her better and to follow her actions in parallel to our following Max.

I love Jared Leto and just hearing his wonderful gravelly voice gives me pleasure, but he has no real character to play in the film.   I was pleasantly surprised to see Lizzy Caplan pop up as Max’s sister, Bridget, but she also has zero actual character or role in the film.  Why have Max break the law by letting Bridget in on the super-top-secret truth of the investigation into Marianne, and then almost never see her character again for the rest of the movie??  I was shocked that Bridget didn’t have any part of the story of the film’s climax.

Oh well.  Look, the film isn’t a catastrophe.  As I wrote above, the Casablanca segment of the film is a hoot, a fun period spy adventure.  It’s a shame that what follows is so pedestrian.

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