I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Allied

ALLIED is an unassuming, quick-paced WWII spy thriller/tragic romance combining the slick directivational chops of Robert Zemeckis (BEOWULF) with the smart guy writing of Steven Knight (EASTERN PROMISES, REDEMPTION, LOCKE). Brad Pitt (CUTTING CLASS) plays Canadian-born spy Max Vatan, who parachutes into French Morocco and pretends to be the Parisian husband of secret resistance leader Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard, RUST AND BONE, TAXI, FURIA). He’s dropped right into the fire, instantly feigning intimacy with this woman as he meets her for the first time sitting with a table of Germans (I think?) at a restaurant. It’s kind of like that story about James Brown calling young Bootsy and his band The Houseguests and flying them in to walk right out on stage and play a show with him. Except way more dangerous. And less funky.

I feel like I’ve gotten off track here.

In private Marianne hammers Max on his terrible Parisian accent, and they very professionally put into place a plan we’re not let in on. It’s not until shortly before the shit goes down that they give in to the elephant in the room, or in this case the car, as they make love inside one while the windows are covered by a brutal sandstorm.

(It should be noted that the FX are at times a little fake-looking for Mr. Cutting Edge Zemeckis – maybe in tribute to old school process shots, or maybe to keep the budget down on a not-hugely-commercial period piece. I didn’t mind, but I figured I’d warn you in case you might.)

Then all the sudden the mission goes down and the gentle pacing breaks into a sprint with a thrilling explosion of violence, rolling right into the two newly-acquainted spies fleeing and starting a new life together as an actual married couple in London.

The real intrigue happens there, when he’s confronted with allegations that his new wife is a Nazi double agent. Seems ridiculous, but they give him a plausible enough explanation that married life gets real uncomfortable as he waits to hear if she’s guilty. If they say she is, he has to kill her himself or he’ll be hanged. Not one of the better relationship problems to face, in my opinion.

He’s been expressly forbidden to investigate this himself, but you know how movie heroes are. He starts sending grunts (and then himself) on secret missions to bring a photo into combat zones to show to people who could verify she’s the accomplished resistance leader she claims to be or an imposter who stole a dead person’s identity. In real life I think Pitt’s marriage was ending around this time. At least he didn’t have to worry if she was a Nazi. (Maybe a tomb raider.)

There’s all kinds of twisty spy story shit standing between Max and the truth. One guy who could identify her is blind. Another is in jail. In France. And too drunk to look at the picture once they get to him. Max gets more and more suspicious of her, keeps trying little tests, the results keep being inconclusive. Does he love a person who doesn’t exist? Is he the one being tested? Maybe he just has to follow instructions and everything will be fine. Maybe he’s already failed because he’s disobeying orders.

It’s as much about love and trust and betrayal as thrills, but it’s very tight, well-paced, always moving forward. Zemeckis (with cinematographer Don Burgess, BLIND FURY, THE CONJURING 2, MONSTER TRUCKS) obsesses on reflections in mirrors, including in the car and at home. Which is the real person? Which is the real relationship?

It’s kind of interesting that Max is Canadian. You don’t see alot of American movies that acknowledge the existence of Canadians. But Pitt’s actually done it before – remember, he was Canadian in 12 YEARS A SLAVE. There he was based on a real Canadian, but it also seemed relevant because his attitudes toward slavery differed from typical American ones of the era.

I’m not sure what to make of the state of Zemeckis (not Canadian – born in Chicago). I doubt many of the youths know his name, but people obsess over BACK TO THE FUTURE and they remember FORREST GUMP. Personally I think WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT is great and I thought I was alone on enjoying creepy ass POLAR EXPRESS but I went to a 3D Imax re-release two Christmases ago and the place was completely full. And I’d do it again, though I’d be more excited for A CHRISTMAS CAROL or especially BEOWULF. Shoulda put some Christmas in that one, I guess.

Here is a picture of Beowulf.

He has a magic horn that he gets.

Even since returning from his time in the mo-cap wilderness, Zemeckis had a hit and Oscar contender with FLIGHT. And he was in contention to do THE FLASH, which I assumed meant he had a cool idea for it, but in retrospect it could be an ominous sign that he’s no longer able to get his projects going like he had been doing for decades. Especially since he didn’t even get the job!

THE WALK in 2015 and ALLIED in 2016 are the kind of off-the-beaten path ideas he normally pursues, but either without the same commercial appeal, or the marketing to make them take off. ALLIED in particular they might as well have shot in black-and-white for all the faith the studio seemed to have in its old-timeyness. I never saw a trailer for it, only a couple TV ads that didn’t say who directed it. Do you remember it existing? I bet most people don’t.

It did get an Oscar nomination for costume designer Joanna Johnston (HELLRAISER, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), losing to FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (the movie that ended my “they’re pretty good” affair with Harry Potter movies).

It came and did okay – by which I mean it opened in fourth place but above BAD SANTA 2 – and then it seems to me it was forgotten by all. And that’s fair enough. It’s very not-modern, seeming to intentionally conjure the intrigue, romance, moral quandaries and location of CASABLANCA. For a spy movie it’s kinda intimate and modest and not one of Pitt’s flashier roles or one of Zemeckis’s usual show-offy movies. I guess it’s an $85 million budget, which used to be big, but I think this probly qualifies as one of those mid-range movies for adults that everybody says they don’t make anymore, because they most don’t, and then when they do all the adults are busy doing their taxes or waiting for the guy to show up to look at the thermostat or whatever.

But I gotta say, I liked it. It’s very effective in its suspense and sadness as it argues for the powerful love even in a relationship built on lies. Also check out BEOWULF.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 at 10:08 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Allied”

  1. emteem/Michael Mayket

    February 21st, 2018 at 10:22 am

    I remember it existing, and saw the trailer it felt like at every movie I went to for like 9 months. I was excited it finally came out so I wouldn’t see that same trailer any longer. I had no idea it was directed by Zemeckis until this review. I’ve also been waiting to find out if she is a spy without having to see it because the trailer didn’t grab me, but maybe I should watch it.

  2. Yes, I also keep forgetting that this exists until I stumble across it every few weeks while checking out which movies are available on German Amazon Prime. And it hurts me that there is a Zemeckis movie, that was such a big “meh” to the public. I guess I better check it out before Amazon removes it. Stupid streaming services keep doing it without a warning all the time.

  3. This was totally a surprise gem when I caught up with it on one of those primo streaming services. Very nice movie with very nice plot and performances. And to stray into spoiler territory:

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    1. Vern, I see what you were going for in your last paragraph, but I’m not sure it isn’t worded in a too-spoilery or inadvertently spoilery way.

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    AND

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    2. Yep, she’s a spy.

  4. I didn’t hate this. I watched it because it was free on Amazon, and it turned out to be pretty OK, and I liked the fact that it ended how I thought it should have. (Hint: If the actress playing Pitt’s wife had been a high-profile American, it would have ended one way, but since the actress playing Pitt’s wife was an arty French lady, it ended the other way.)

    Also, fuck a BEOWULF forever. Watch THE 13th WARRIOR, and read Seamus Heaney’s translation of the poem instead.

  5. I saw this opening night right before Thanksgiving. I’ve loved a bunch of RZ’s movies. My favorite film
    of all time remains ROMANCING THE STONE, and so I was pretty excited for ALLIED. I was crushed, however, that he did all those outdoor shots using green screen. That scene where Pitt is parachuting down was as glaringly tacky as the surf parachute scene in DIE ANOTHER DAY. I just don’t understand why RZ didn’t go out and actually shoot a real dude parachuting. And there were other vista shots that took me out of the film. For a film that was going for David Lean-esque classic status, these crummy
    green screen shots should have been handled much better. It seems like RZ and a lot of his peers like James Cameron and Spielberg are becoming much more comfortable working in a warehouse than working on location. It’s kind of a bummer. And ultimately ALLIED reminded me of the ultra depressing films THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE and SOMMERSBY, which both hinge on one person’s identity and then that person stands nobly by to be punished while their loved ones helplessly watch.

  6. I love that Romancing the Stone is your favorite movie of all time.

  7. The Undefeated Gaul

    February 21st, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    Haven’t seen this but BEOWULF doesnt get enough love indeed. The climax is a goddamn amazing action sequence (still the best ever done in a CGI animation movie) and the score is fucking classic. So yes, I WILL check it out soon. It’s been too long.

  8. Yeah but how were the costumes?

  9. As I noted, they were Oscar nominated.

  10. I saw this opening day at 11a.m. You sure as shit don’t read that about this movie. Ever. And it was great.

  11. My joke would have worked if I would have read the review lol

  12. Beowulf was fucking dope. One of those instances where I went to the five-o-clock show, then got right back in line for the seven.

    It amazes me that people are still sleeping on it and/or have some erroneous notion that it’s no good.

    I was really surprised that crazy, ultra-dogmatic Christian groups didn’t denounce or protest it, since the movie was basically double-daring them not to.

  13. emteem/Michael Mayket

    February 22nd, 2018 at 7:44 am

    I laughed at your joke and I had read the review, albeit like 24 hours ago so I had forgotten he mentioned the costumes.

  14. This was a solid WWII thriller, and it’s the kind of “movie for grownup” (of the non-Oscar bait variety) that I wish were more common. It’s not based on a preexisting property. It’s clearly the kind of story Zemeckis was interested in telling and that a less well known director wouldn’t have been able to get made. It’s a real bummer that it didn’t exactly light up the box office.

    It’s genuinely weird to think that movies like Rain Man, Pretty Woman, and Thelma and Louise used to be box office smashes. At best, those films might get some traction as indies or Oscar contenders these days. On the one hand, I definitely prefer the steady stream of superhero movies to some of the middlebrow hits of yonder days. But on the other hand, it is a bummer that big name directors find difficulty getting their own movies off the ground if they don’t cost two hundred million with the expectation that they make a billion worldwide.

  15. I could have done with less “Will they or won’t they?” business at the beginning, since of course they will, and more “Is she a Nazi double agent or are Pitt’s bosses just testing his loyalty?” stuff, but it was still a perfectly serviceable movie.
    Making Pitt’s character Canadian seems like their excuse for the fact that he speaks French with an accent. But he doesn’t sound at all like he’s a French Canadian, and I know the character’s supposed to be from Ontario anyway but it’s still a bit silly that Cotillard calls him “mon Québécois” when he sounds more like a sedated Aldo Raine.

  16. I watched this and found it just a weirdly flat experience. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong or what it was lacking … it just felt like a slight little thing with no substance. I’ve come to realise that I’m quite a sappy romantic given the right ingredients in a movie, but I just couldn’t wring any emotion out of this one. I certainly didn’t feel any chemistry between the stars, which is weird given the rumours during filming of an affair between Pitt and Cotillard. And I did find the strangely cartoony appearance distracting, especially since it made Pitt look like an artificially airbrushed version of himself.

    Let me add my name to the supporters of BEOWULF though …

  17. I rewatched BEOWULF last month. People don’t give it enough credit for how excellent the script is. In fact I’d go one further and say that this is exactly the type of blockbuster/spectacle movie you always hear some clamor for, a big budget put behind a movie that actually has something to say and has ideas. This movie even has an excellent cast but unlike other big movies that manage to get a great cast (like almost every Bruckheimer-produced movie it seems) this one doesn’t waste them on nothing roles. Here they actually get to play fully-rounded three-dimensional (ha!) characters.

    Too bad the aesthetic choice of the movie makes it hard for many to fully embrace it or even take it seriously. I’m included in that because when I saw this in theaters (sadly not in 3D) I couldn’t get past the digital actors. In that case it’s excellent it’s excellent in every single aspect except for it’s chosen aesthetic. I think if it were done with live actors we’d be talking about this movie more and even hold it up as a standard for other big movies (or at least fantasy) to follow. As it is now I instead go ‘It’s really good but it looks like a video game cutscene the whole time so you’ll probably not like it.’

  18. I made it maybe 15 minutes into BEOWULF. There was the part where Grendel attacked or something and I thought “That would have been awesome if this had been a real movie” and I realized that’s how I was going to feel the whole time. It was never going to feel real. Good ideas, no impact, because the entire visual presentation is a distraction. I turned it off.

  19. Castaway? Hellooooo?
    Every time I pass by that on TV, I have to stop and finish it. It really is an insanely well made film. The idea that they even were ballsy enough to try an make it astonishes me. I think it is, by far, Zemeckis’ best film (although I have to say, I haven’t seen Roger Rabbit in a million years).

  20. You guys may know this, but BEOWULF actually was written originally as a live action project for Roger Avary to direct. He could never get the money for it so he let Zemeckis take over, although I think he would’ve still preferred live action. I’m not sure if or how much it was rewritten, but I imagine the cool camera moves were all Zemeckis.

  21. Did anyone else think Pitt looked oddly de-aged the whole movie, like Marvel had done for Michael Douglas and Later was done for Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher? But not for a few scenes, for the whole movie.

    I wonder if that was Zemeckis’s tech experiment, to try to de-age a main character. He looked polar express-y.

  22. Zemeckis is a strange beast, USED CARS, the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT and CASTAWAY are all excellent movies, but everything else I’ve seen is kinda meh (FORREST GUMP is an alright movie for what it is but also probably the most overrated movie of all time)

    I forgot until now that I actually saw that BEOWULF movie in theaters, I’m with Majestyk, I mostly thought it would be much better as a real movie and not CGI, funny how a decade later actual video games look way better than that movie.

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