There’s been plenty of publicity around Allied – predicted earlier in the year as a likely Oscar contender, it’s been highly promoted. Directed by Robert Zemekis (Forrest Gump, Back To The Future), it certainly was expected to be visually compelling with impressive effects, and with all the ingredients for success, it seemed certain to be an instant crowd-pleaser. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case.
Set in the Second World War, it stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as two spies who meet on a mission in Casablanca. When their faux romance turns into something real, Max (Pitt) and Marianne (Cotillard) escape Morocco and settle down in London. However, soon doubts about true allegiances threaten their domestic bliss.
Before looking at the issues of this film, it’s important to note that everything looks stunning. The costumes are so rich and the eggshell blue dress worn in a pivotal scene by Cotillard is certainly the most eye-catching look in a film that offers much competition. Don’t even get me started on her enviable coats. Everything is bathed in a soft light too, giving it a sumptuous feel. Brad Pitt too, certainly suits the wartime look and with his maturing face, he looks more like Robert Redford than he ever has. It’s actually a bit spooky.
However, visuals are all very well. This film suffers because it’s a true case of style over substance, where the look and design of the movie have taken precedence over effective storytelling. In fact, Allied has something of the ‘Benjamin Button‘ curse, of also being a film where everything looks great, but the story feels melodramatic and distant. As a result, and despite the best efforts of the soundtrack and numerous slow-mo shots, it simply came across as empty and soulless. There’s no point in having a glossy film when the action and the script – which bordered occasionally on the comical – is muddled.
It’s a real pity, because Cotillard and Pitt are a natural combination of star power, beauty and acting ability. Perhaps it lost me early, when it placed the characters in the same Casablanca that we know from the iconic 1942 film of the same name. There’s even mention of French patriots singing La Marseillaise in a bar, and in the face of German soldiers – I mean, if you’re going to reference it this heavily, isn’t that a bit risky? Casablanca is commonly regarded as one of the best films of all time, so Allied is only going to suffer in comparison.
Aside from the look of the film, there is one small shining light – Jared Harris (Mad Men, The Crown) appears as Max’s commanding officer and is as wonderful (and as comfortable in period costumes) as ever. That’s what I’d like for Christmas, more Jared Harris in all period dramas. There’s also quite a seasoned cast that make up the background of the film, from Matthew Goode as an injured soldier to Lizzie Caplan as Max’s sister. None get more than a few minutes of screen time and despite the actors all giving good performances, the characters feel so underdeveloped that you can’t help but wonder if a lot more was left behind on the cutting room floor.
Allied is strange, because it had a lot of important ingredients to succeed as a fantastic wartime drama. Two proven actors at the top of their game as the leads, stunning costumes and exemplary visual effects. What it was missing was a strong script and effective storytelling,instead slipping into melodrama. It’s all very well to make something look great, but when a film works too hard to force emotion into a lacklustre script like Allied does, it loses an audience.