Pitt saves his new period spy movie as well as the world
All you see when you look at the poster for Allied, legendary director, Robert Zemeckis’ new period spy film is Brad Pitt’s Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard’s Marianne Beausejour and nothing else. This is the perfect way to describe Zemeckis’ take on this second world war two story. In a story that goes from the beautiful majestic dunes in the deserts of Morocco to the narrow streets of London England. The intricate art-deco of 1942 ballrooms to London in the middle of German air raids – and you never once loose focus on these two characters.
Robert Zemeckis’ focus on character has been the single thing that has connected an eclectic cv of films in a career that spans Back to the Future to Contact. And that focus truly shines in Allied. Despite the massive amount of side characters, this is Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard’s story. Max Vatan is a Canadian solider working with the allies at the night of world war two. He’s teamed with a resistance agent, Marianne Beausejour, while working an assassination and falls in love with her. Zemeckis takes this premise and runs with it. You never loose the focus on Vatan and Beausejour, but you’re never unaware of the beautiful art-deco world of the 40’s. Whether it’s the intricate marble tiles in the ballroom Vatan steps into in Morocco or the dirty bricks of London. I love Zemeckis’ details in his films to the point that I have to give a shout out to costume designer Joanna Johnston for the designs for the ties that Vatan wears while on assignment in Morocco.
And when I say this movie is Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard’s story it’s because you want to be with these characters that screenwriter Steven Knight. Now, you know you’re not in for a romantic comedy when the movie is written by the writer of Eastern Promises and Locke. And don’t go looking for your traditional happy-go-lucky hollywood romance either. But you still believe this romance between Vatan and Beausejour. It comes through in their interactions, the direction and performances. And it makes for a truly gripping climax because you’re behind these characters. It’s rare in a movie these days for me where I’m leaning forward in my seat. But the heart of this film is the performance of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Allied is especially a tour du force for Pitt. He takes the weight of the film as the question whether or not his wife, the mother of his child is a German spy.
Pitt’s made a career out of drawing out the inner conflict out of the everyday likability he naturally has. And what Zemeckis did the best with this movie was allow that question to eat at Vatan and Pitt jumps at this. The problem being, Pitt jumped a little too far. Zemeckis does allow Pitt the time for the question to eat at him. But he often draws that out a little too long and I found myself looking at my watch twice in the back half of the film. There’s only so much of quiet contemplation I can take in a movie. But, somehow, the relationship between Vatan and Beausejour still works despite all of this. I absolutely believe Vatan loved his wife just through one look. Zemeckis never let’s you forget that this is inherently a love story – despite the war torn setting. And he more then sells it without going over the top. Shots of their wedding photo – Beausejour is looking at the camera, Vatan at her. It’s the reason why this relationship works so well, it feels real. It grows naturally with the tension, and it works beautifully. Both Pitt and Cotillard have a chemistry that you want to see more of. Leave it to Robert Zemeckis to get me to watch a Steven Knight story and not come out of it depressed.
And I should mention, I love Steven Knight movies. The man has an incredible ability to write real characters. And Marion Cotillard represents a new side of Steven Knight’s characters in that she has a genuine heart. Cotillard has an ability to bring a passion to what she says that you just believe. And she is so remarkably under used in this film. It was a delicate balance, she is supposed to be Vatan’s motivation for everything he does. And she disappears for large chunks of the film. And it’s a damn shame, because when she is on screen, she owns it. It speaks to the talent of Zemeckis for making Allied work, especially that climax. But the fact is, this film needed more Marianne in this story to truly sell Vatan’s choices and questions.
Zemeckis manages to handle the relationship with a great deal of skill that still works quite well. And I appreciated his take on a relationship born in a war as he doesn’t shy away from the fact. The assassination Vatan and Beausejour carry out is truly violent. But you get it, this is their world. Vatan doesn’t flinch as he carries out his mission. Zemeckis made a solid film that delivers what it promises. But you won’t be talking about this movie after you leave the theatre. Because of Zemeckis and the great performances from Pitt and Cotillard this film is easily worth a 4 out of 5 star rating. I can only imagine what the final cut of this film would have been if they didn’t have someone like Robert Zemeckis directing.