Those prone to forget the dark years preceding the 1944 Normandy invasion might puzzle over the decision, in Robert Zemeckis’ Allied, to portray Oklahoma-born Brad Pitt’s officer-protagonist as hailing from Canada rather than the United States. In market terms, that choice makes the hero slightly more remote for U.S. viewers, though perhaps more approachable for others around the world.
But in historical terms, Pitt’s Canadian identity makes perfect sense — something that is explained, without specific reference to the film, in a meditation recently posted by Hollywood writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd on the Daily Wire website.
Titled “My First Ameriphobe,” the piece explains how Chetwynd was born in England, then migrated to Canada before eventually moving to Los Angeles. While in Canada, he served in that country’s military, and along the way he acquired considerable respect for its history and traditions. Among the strongest of those folk memories, as Chetwynd describes them, is the recollection of an ill-fated raid on Dieppe, on the Norman coast of France, in 1942. England at the time was fairly exhausted by more than two years of warfare, and the U.S. still was mobilizing. So the Dieppe raid fell heavily to the Canadians, who contributed about 5,000 of the roughly 6,000 Allied troops who took part.
In large part, they were crushed by heavily armed and well dug-in German defenders. By Chetwynd’s count, 3,367 of the Canadians were killed, wounded or taken prisoner — about 68% of their force. But even knowing in advance that the odds were almost entirely against them, writes Chetwynd, “When the embarkation roll call was taken, not one man failed to answer.”
So it is entirely right that Pitt’s character, who drops in and out of Dieppe in a small plane through the course of an Allied script written by Steven Knight, should belong to Canada, not the U.S. The choice makes him a bit more distant for viewers here. But it makes him only the more real, and heroic, historically speaking.