Column: Dirty Cinephiles

By: Esa Keltamaki

Allied is a meeting of classic narrative streams—a passionate love, the trials of war—but through combination the film manages to stir up some of the stagnant water, muck and all.

Allied‘s opening betrays what it is early. It stumbles through a protracted first act that simply leans toward what’s next, never settling in the moment. The film’s pace drifts from painfully slow to the occasional trot, ultimately failing to accentuate an interesting premise with anything else. The CGI inserts itself into the frame like a finger under a falling hammer—never quite where it should be, and painfully obvious in the aftermath.

We meet our central lovers-to-be in Casablanca: Brad Pitt as Canadian Max Vatan, a quiet and meticulous veteran soldier, and Marion Cotillard as Marianne Beausejour, a spy equal parts charming and clever. It is in Casablanca that the film tries to establish a backstory for its central conflict—is she or isn’t she a double-agent? And it’s fitting that the narrative rests upon Cotillard, as she carries Allied from start to finish.

Cotillard perfectly shifts from French to English and back, balancing dialogue and her performance within a performance. For her, the acting is acting and the acting is real, and it’s all a captivating blend that pushes the film forward while punctuating its very questions.

All the makeup in the world, meanwhile—the majority of which Pitt uses in Allied—cannot hide the fact that Pitt’s acting is a miss. The film works to cleverly skirt the fact that he can barely put a French sentence together, but the viewer is still left wondering if he’s turning in a Parisian variation of his faux-Italian from Inglourious Basterds. As Vatan, Pitt sleepwalks through most of the film, a brooding figure for whom reaction to any stimulus is a chore.

The supporting cast does its best, including the under-utilized Lizzy Caplan, and the spectacular Jared Harris, who slips in and out of his scenes hitting every mark but never stealing the focus.

To its credit, the film does a good job of navigating its tension. The viewer is kept on edge as to whether or not Mme Beausejour is a spy, and it manages to keep the suspense fresh by introducing wrinkles into the narrative. Director Robert Zemekis and cinematographer Don Burgess make excellent work of mirrors in creating disorienting perspectives. The filmmaking team play with false visuals that reflect the uncertainty presented in the film—Allied artfully frame spaces of uneasy reality, forcing the viewer to share in teetering.

Ultimately, it’s not enough. Allied gets better as it moves along, but it never manages to escape its shortcomings—it doesn’t matter if the good guys win if the audience loses.     2.5/5


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