3.5 stars. Rated R, for violence, profanity, fleeting nudity and brief drug use
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.25.16
At first blush, this feels like an old-style WWII espionage drama of the sort whose absence is lamented by longtime moviegoers — such as my parents — who often grouse that They Don’t Make ’Em Like This Anymore.
|Shortly after adopting his cover identity as the devoted husband of Marianne (Marion|
Cotillard), Max (Brad Pitt) fears that he may have been recognized by a Nazi officer: a
potential catastrophe that requires a quick solution...
Given the French Moroccan setting, stars with the wattage of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, and a swooningly romantic script that even name-checks Casablanca, one almost expects Bogie and Bacall to come strolling in from the surrounding desert.
Steven Knight is a terrific screenwriter, with solid experience in the crime and espionage genres; his highlights include 2002’s Dirty Pretty Things and 2007’s Eastern Promises. No surprise, then: He delivers a corker of a first act for Allied, and then swings the plot into an unexpected direction that cranks up the suspense.
Unfortunately, things get messy during an contrived third act, which piles eye-rolling coincidence atop unrealistic behavior, the latter from characters who’ve previously been depicted as far too intelligent, to suddenly turn brainless. Cut to a positively eye-rolling epilogue, and the film squanders the considerable good will that it has built.
Seriously, Steven ... what were you thinking?
In fairness, such climactic, over-the-top melodrama also is old-school, so Knight and director Robert Zemeckis obviously knew precisely what they were doing. I’m simply not sure that today’s savvier viewers will be as willing to forgive such theatrical excess, as was the case back in the 1940s and ’50s.
And it’s a shame, because the first 90 minutes are thoroughly compelling, and — yes — luxuriously atmospheric.
The year is 1942, and the film opens as Canadian airman Max Vatan (Pitt) parachutes into the desert outside of Casablanca. His emergency mission, orchestrated by the British Special Operations Executive (BSOE): to assassinate Germany’s visiting ambassador. The groundwork for this mission has been established by undercover French resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard), who has spent weeks among her Nazi “friends,” waxing eloquent about the beloved husband soon to visit from Paris.
The handsome and affable Max looks and sounds the part ... to a point. As Marianne immediately notices, his carefully rehearsed accent is more Québécois than Parisian, which is a problem: French Moroccans wouldn’t know the difference, but he’d never fool Nazi officials who had spent any time in France.