Director: Robert Zemeckis
United front provides entertaining romp
Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Robert Zemeckis. The team-sheet reads like a big-screen dream. Throw prolific and dependable British screen-writer Steven Knight into the mix and cinematic victory should be fairly assured. The end result, though not a masterpiece, proves to be a pretty entertaining thriller/drama.
Set amid World War Two, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) navigates the treacherous and murky world of Counter-Intelligence for the allies behind enemy lines in North Africa. Pitt has had a recent knack of landing big roles in this particular time period (Inglorious Basterds and Fury). Here Pitt plays a Canadian in a minor deviation from the norm.
In the opening scene, we land in North Africa via parachute and some peculiarly shoddy CGI work. From a storyteller like Zemeckis, I expected more. The scene could have just been done for real. Landing a parachutist on sand surely isn’t too much to ask. Digital effects transgressions aside, I quickly found myself immersed in the intrigue. Max Vatan meets with Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter. They must complete a mission together by infiltrating a particular gathering, echoing Inglorious Basterds. As the story unfolds, issues of identity and allegiance rear their head. As spies, our actors are double-acting or acting acting. This causes some exchanges to feel slightly wooden or unnatural. However, this effect upon our suspension of disbelief is only really apparent due to our foreknowledge of Pitt and Cotillard’s roles as Intelligence Officers. So it’s a bit of a catch-22 really.
Brad Pitt tries his hand at French which is new. Unfortunately, aside from the short quips he delivers capably, the longer sentences fall victim to the habit of saying-lots-of-words-really-fast-to-sound-fluent-and-natural-which-just-means-none-of-it-is-actually-intelligible. It is admirable nevertheless given the scarcity of mainstream American actors delivering foreign language dialogue, with few ever even taking on a foreign accent. The Brits are seasoned veterans on that front. I prefer Cotillard in European productions. She was fantastic in Rust and Bone. Here she again demonstrates consummate skill in evoking the fallibility and frailty of humans in excruciating circumstances and personal predicaments – look out for the bar scene with the piano.
A lot happens in this film. The bare-bones of the story are great. The pacing is impressive throughout and thus the film never really drags. Writer Steven Knight has churned out consistent quality content: Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Closed Circuit and Locke, as well as TV series Peaky Blinders. There are occasions when less would be more: a sex scene, a birth scene and a plane crash. You’ll know them when you see them. However, the inevitable scenes of bloodshed hit hard. The set-pieces are well-staged and the cold, calculating and matter-of-fact nature of the violence displayed is convincing given who our protagonists are supposed to be. Counter-posed against some of the more cloying moments, these scenes really pop in a rewarding way, and reinforce the high stakes of the delicate game.
A cheeky but very satisfying cameo from German actor August Diehl appears early in the film as he tries to expose and weed out a potential infiltrator. Enjoy if you make the link. Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) and Matthew Goode (Stoker) also appear.
In the wake of Allied, media furore and scandals engulfed the Pitt/Jolie household. Admittedly, my contemplation of Cotillard’s and Pitt’s on-screen dynamic was sharpened. Inevitably, this rendered their interactions that little bit more intriguing. Regardless of the rumour-mill, the impressive on-screen chemistry lends itself to some gripping exchanges and emotionally resonant scenes in what is, overall, a satisfyingly executed and entertaining spectacle.
Allied gets 3 Blitz-babies out of 5.
Available now from JB Hi-Fi.
Further Viewing: Forrest Gump, Flight, The Walk
See Also: Inglorious Basterds, Fury, Road to Perdition