‘Allied’ reminds us of more cinematic greatness than it achieves

By Jonathan Shuping

November 29, 2016

Ever since Robert Redford directed a young Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It, I’ve felt that they were somehow spiritually tied together (even though Redford narrated that film as Pitt’s character’s brother). A decade later, Redford played Pitt’s mentor and handler in the late great Tony Scott’s Spy Game. If you think about it, with very few exceptions, most of their roles are virtually interchangeable. Brad Pitt as the Sundance Kid? Absolutely! Robert Redford as Billy Beane in Moneyball? Definitely! Rusty Ryan from Ocean’s Eleven is practically the same character as Johnny Hooker in The Sting. Now, with Allied, Pitt seems to have completed his gradual transformation into Redford reincarnated as golden-haired intelligence officer Max Vatan.

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Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) and Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

In WWII French Morocco, Max joins up with French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard, who will going forward forever feel like a woman out of time because she positively belongs in the1940s) first for a mission, then for a marriage, and all is seemingly sublime until Max’s superiors inform him that his lovely bride may or may not be a Nazi spy. What follows is much more film noir than James Bond-style espionage as Steven Knight’s (Peaky Blinders, Locke) script deliberately nudges the audience up a mountain of paranoia, tension, and suspense while Max struggles to subtly discern whether he is or is not in fact sleeping with the enemy.

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Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Like his pal Steven Spielberg, director Robert Zemeckis’ career has evolved from the fun special effects romps of the ‘80s like the classic Back to the Future to more expansive and sophisticated think-pieces like Contact. Reteaming with his Cast Away and Forrest Gump cinematographer Don Burgess, the film has a very Spielbergian feel to it. Think of the ominously slow-moving wide-angle tracking shots from Munich and Bridge of Spies; that’s both the vibe and the look of Allied.

There are a few visual stunners too, including an incredible nighttime air raid over London not from the perspective of the dogfighting pilots, but from the backyard of mortified dinner-partygoers, and an uber-intense sequence at a storm-soaked military airbase that awesomely lets the driving rain score the music-less scene. There are images so appealing to the senses that you don’t want to blink for fear of missing out. You don’t want them to ever end. Or you want to freeze them and hang in your living room.

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Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Still, with its beautiful cinematography and super-classy talent, Allied doesn’t quite reach the cloak-and-dagger peaks of Redford’s Three Days of the Condor or the emotional depths of a war film like Pitt’s Fury. As much as it aspires to be Casablanca or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it’s always looking up at these others, and never quite makes the leap from good to great.

Star Rating: 3½ out of 5 stars

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