Who says they don’t make ’em like they used to? Allied is what movies were once meant to be. A sweeping and glorious return to great storytelling in a film that has it all: a beautiful love story wrapped in an intelligent suspense thriller with wonderful performances from Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. As I say in my video review above, director Robert Zemeckis has made a gorgeous movie. And I am not just talking about the two stars — who use every possible morsel of star wattage, reminding you of the greats of the past — but also the superb production values right down the line that make Allied look like some sort of cinematic dream from the 1940s era in which it is set. It’s also a compelling and romantic spy thriller that should have great appeal for contemporary audiences.
Pitt plays Max, a Canadian military intelligence officer on a mission in Morocco. It takes him in the movie’s first half to none other than Casablanca (yes, that Casablanca) and unites him with Marianne (Cotillard), a French resistance fighter there to pose as his wife. The two are strictly professional spies, but they do exude a certain connection that leads to an invitation to a party at the German ambassador’s place. It is there that all hell breaks loose, along with the beginnings of what becomes a real relationship between the two, leading to marriage, a child and a seemingly domestic bliss in London for the film’s second half.
Complications arise when Max is informed that his wife might not be who he thinks she is, and it is up to him to prove them wrong. Screenwriter Steven Knight has crafted a nifty story that isn’t just a mere imitation of something you could imagine Ingrid Bergman and William Holden doing, even though wearing a certain hat in one scene Cotillard looks exactly like Bergman in the 1943 classic Casablanca. This one has all the requisite trappings including Nazis, bombed-out cities, foreign intrigue and impossibly good-looking stars. But Pitt and Cotillard are such good, and persuasive, actors that they quickly make you forget that they also happen to look the part. It is really their show, but the supporting cast includes Jared Harris and Simon McBurney as officers who deal with Max and Lizzy Caplan as Max’s sister. Matthew Goode is effective in his relatively brief appearance.
After a decade-long detour into performance-capture animation projects, Zemeckis is back in his sweet zone making movie movies such as the terrific Denzel Washington vehicle Flight, the greatly underappreciated and under-seen The Walk and now the supremely entertaining Allied. He is helped enormously by great craftspeople including cinematographer Don Burgess, production designer Gary Freeman and costume designer Joanna Johnston. Composer Alan Silvestri, a regular collaborator with Zemeckis since 1984’s Romancing the Stone, has contributed one of his best scores, perfectly keyed to the movie’s changing motifs. A special shout-out to the visual effects team that managed to make a bombed-out London and a Casablanca of 70 years ago look like they just stumbled on those locations today.
In answer to my initial question, “Who says they don’t make ’em like they used to?”: It was a bit of a deception on my part because though Allied is a throwback, the way it was made is thoroughly modern with all the bells and whistles that CGI can offer. Certainly there is no director who uses these toys better than Zemeckis. Producing the film along with Zemeckis is his longtime partner Steve Starkey, as well as Graham King. Paramount releases the film on Wednesday, an adult treat for the holidays.
Do you plan to see Allied? Let us know what you think.