Allied and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Oh hey! I remember that guy! Didn’t he do that one movie no one saw last year? Sure, Zemeckis hasn’t had the best track record since Cast Away (mostly due to his obsession with CG animated films for a while there), but The Walk was a pretty solid film that just didn’t get much attention for some reason. Sure, it wasn’t full of explosions or even A list actors (Joseph Gordon Levitt still has a ways to go), but it still a really well made little caper that kept things light and fun. Now it seems that Zemeckis is going in the opposite direction with this sizably budgeted war thriller with two super stars in the cast and a much more intense feel to it. Not to say that any of that is a BAD thing; it’s just interesting that his new film seems to be so diametrically opposed to what he did just last year. Is this movie not only another stellar outing for Zemeckis but the big hit that The Walk just couldn’t manage to be, or will we be wishing to see Philippe Petit walk across another tightrope before this film is over? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Canadian Super Spy Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) arriving in Casablanca Morocco to meet up with French Resistance Fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) to do the one thing you’re supposed to do Casablanca during World War 2; kill some damn Nazis! Say what you will about the greatest generation; at least they knew not to VOTE for them! Of course, during the course of this mission they end up falling in love and Max manages to get Marianne passage to England so that they can get married and he can take a desk job in British Intelligence. Things seem to be going well for some time (they even have a kid together), but then one day some dude who’s like fifty pay grades above Max that they suspect Marianne to be a German Spy. Not only that, but if they find OUT she’s a spy then he’ll have to kill her with his own hands; lest he get charged with treason hang from a noose. Okay… I’m pretty sure that’s still murder even if some dude in the government tells you to do it, but whatever. Needless to say that Max doesn’t buy this for a second and then proceeds to break every rule in the book to try and prove his wife’s innocence despite the evidence this government dude is laying out for him. Will Max find the truth and is it the truth he’s hoping for? Where exactly did the higher ups get all this evidence, and why are they coming to Max like this while they’re still investigating? If she’s REALLY a Nazi what the hell could she POSSIBLY hope to get by going THIS deep under cover for THIS long when she’s hooking up with THIS pencil pusher!?
A lot of movies that are all about THE BIG TWIST tend to live or die based on how well executed the final act is once all the cards are on the table, and this is absolutely a fair way to judge such films as the risk they are taking of fucking it all up is in exchange for giving the audience a constant thread of engagement that isn’t as easy to create in films not working towards some big revelation. Sadly enough, the majority of this movie leans ENTIRELY on its single premise which was a mistake as the ending is a total dud. To be fair, there are only a few ways this movie could have gone, and I knew that if they went down the specific route they ultimately ended up going, that it was going to be really hard to sell me on it. With that in mind though, I still feel that there were better ways to handle THE BIG TWIST than how they ended up doing it, and a lot of it feels like cheap manipulation that completely ignores what the actual implications of the situation would be. It’s a shame considering that the first act promises a much better movie and the second act does a decent job of building the suspense, but it’s all ultimately in service of a twist that doesn’t even bother trying to justify itself within the narrative. They want you to have a big emotional reaction to what happens at the end, but all it made me feel was irritated.
Since so much of this movie’s problems are in regards to THE BIG TWIST and how we build up to it, there’s not much we can say about why that doesn’t work without delving heavily into spoilers, so let’s start from the beginning and work our way up. To me, the only part of this film that has any substance is the first act which is all about their mission together in Casablanca and how they met in the field of battle, while the second and third acts revolve around this mystery and nothing else; so let’s talk about why that first act works so well. It’s entirely self-contained for one, so while it would normally be kind of annoying for the first part to have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie (they even hint that there SHOULD be something coming back to bite them in the ass later that never comes about), I’m glad that there’s SOMETHING in here that isn’t worsened by the bad ending. It’s a pretty standard spy thriller which for some reason had the gall to ACTUALLY be set in Casablanca, but it highlights Zemeckis’s stylistic strengths and makes me wish he’d have just stuck with making this one mission into a feature in and of itself. Now to be fair, they manage to get a lot of the juicy spy bits into a relatively short running time so spreading them out over an entire feature might not have worked out to well, but it’s a genuinely fun time and has an interesting tone that feels kind of like what Tarnation was going for with Inglorious Basterds, but with less of an exploitation bent and more of a classic serial bent. More Indiana Jones with a bit of James Bond in it rather than Nazi-sploitation and video store trash.
Once we get past that first mission and settle into the meat of the story, the flaws start to creep in and slowly take over the movie. Now without spoiling the ending, the big twist as to whether or not Marianne is a spy can really only have two endings; either Max is right and she’s not a spy or the British government is right and she is one. The movie presents both sides of this as it dangles the final resolution just out of reach, so let’s talk about how the two arguments are handled. Starting with the government, let’s assume she’s a spy. I can’t help but feel t that this was far and away the dumbest method to go about it, even if it would have been historically accurate for the time which I haven’t been able to verify. They drag Max into a room, tell him his wife might be a spy, and THEN tell him he has to kill her with his own hand if she is (this is all in the trailer by the way and is told to us by some really slimy mother fucker). I’ve said many times that one of my biggest pet peeves in any work of fiction is when THE GOVERNMENTTM acts in an unbelievably stupid way to either build tension or get the plot moving and this is a perfect example of that where THE GOVERNMENTTM is talking about murdering someone dead without a trial, AFTER they had already cleared her for entry into the country years ago, and forcing their significant other to do so under penalty of treason which of course would mean death. I’m sorry, which side of the war are we on again? Maybe things really were that awful back in the 1940s, but it feels less like a realistic set of circumstances than it does a lazy way to get us to sympathize with someone who might ACTUALLY be a Nazi.
So if the side that thinks she’s a spy is so over the top with its witch hunt, that means the whole point is for us to side with Max in quest to prove his wife is innocent, right? Yeah… not quite. The ticking clock that we’re all counting down to is the results of something called a Blue Dye operation where Max is purposefully given false Intel and has to leave it for Marianne to find and for her to send to her contact if she’s a spy. On Monday morning (the bulk of this movie takes place over a weekend), the fake data is going to be found by THE GOVERNMENTTM who are listening in on secure Nazi channels, or it’s not. Why then does Max spend two days doing increasingly stupid and risky things to find out if Marianne is a spy!? Sure, there’s a chance that this might all be a set up where someone after Marianne (maybe even THE GOVERNMENTTM) could transmit the false data which would incriminate her, but other than that SMALL possibility (that the movie doesn’t even acknowledge a possibility), there’s really no reason for Max to be going out and risking his life, his career, and his freedom to prove something that we’ll get an answer to at the end of the movie. It makes it hard to root for him when he’s doing everything in his power to wreck his and Marianne’s lives whether or not she turns out to be a spy. Granted, I can’t quite pin all his terrible decisions on his own lack of judgement considering how irresponsibly THE GOVERNMENTTM was acting, but it doesn’t really help his case when he’s committing crimes and risking the lives of others to disprove something that’s already set to be definitely answered in the morning.
I’ve mostly focused on negatives here as that’s how the movie left me feeling once it got to the big twist and the finale, but there is still a lot to like here. Marion Cotillard is always a joy to watch on screen and this film is no exception as she basically carries this entire film on her shoulders. She had a pretty hard job to do here where she needed to sell herself to the audience enough so that you’d want to believe in her which isn’t always easy to pull off; especially when you’ve got cynical jerks like me who sometime try to get ahead of the movie or will just assume characters should act as logically as possible since it’s not happening directly to us and we have the luxury of a clear head. Okay, I DID just spend most of this review explaining why characters were being idiots, but it’s not like I have a problem with their MOTIVATIONS, and a better ending might have salvaged some of the problems I had in the actions certain characters take. I don’t think Brad Pitt is all that impressive in his role as he comes off a bit like a blank slate, but that felt like it was mostly in service of putting us in his position to help us empathize with him and why he’s going to such lengths for her, and he does come into the role the closer we get towards the end. The movie is really well shot too with some great costumes and sets, though admittedly the best shots are in the first act which makes since because that’s when they have the most resources to work with. Flashy suits, Nazi Party parties, and machine gun fire to tear it all to pieces! How do you NOT make that look awesome!?
Even if the ending was better, this still wouldn’t have been a FANTASTIC movie, but it could have been a pretty damn good one. As it stands, the movie took a gamble on its twist ending and lost that bet pretty soundly; ruining a decent amount of the second act in the process. Still, there is that first act which is a hell of a lot of fun, and there are some good parts of the second act even if it’s all building up to something lame. It’s not really worth checking out at the theater as its big showy moments are few and far between, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who won’t have the problems with the ending that I had and will certainly enjoy it once it hits home release. Hell, it’s worth it just to watch Marion Cotiliard’s amazing performance here. Now if we can only get her to be cast as Carmen Sandiego. You KNOW that’s gonna happen at some point!
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