Two spies think they’ve found marital bliss together but the pressures of war soon weigh down on the happy couple
Allied is a slow burning thriller that builds momentum at each turn.The beautiful camera work and the intense score amplify the small cracks that start to appear between a seemingly happily married couple against the backdrop of the Second World War. Landing in French Morocco in 1942 intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is handed a suitcase with everything he needs to believably play the part of a loving husband. French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) is meeting her husband for the first time, and naturally greets him with open, loving arms as any wife would do having not seen him for two months. But all this is an act.Max and Marianne have been assigned together to complete a high risk mission in an effort to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold in Casablanca during the World War II. A year passes and Max and Marianne have joined forces once more in London, this time turning their previous act of marriage into a reality. Enjoying the delights of their baby daughter Anna and with a much needed break from work, the blissfully happy family set about making plans for a long weekend. However when Max is called back into the office any hope of a carefree weekend is completely thrown out the window.
With such a varied body of work already completed, ranging from zany comedies (the Back To The Future franchise, Death Becomes Her) to comedy horror (Tales From The Crypt) to award-winning titles such as Forest Gump and Castaway, Robert Zemeckis has steadily veered towards more serious and dramatic subject matter. Allied very neatly fits in between both those genres taking a wartime drama and turning it into something much more personal and, in a way, relatable. Zemeckis plays with the idea of doubt and suspicion and explores how it can manifest itself into something far greater than anything physical. The blossoming relationship of Max and Marianne is contrasted with it’s gradual breakdown as the seeds of suspicion grow and Max is forced to seek out the truth.
An excellent use of framing throughout is employed to show how this couple who once were so close are being torn apart by the weight of the war giving insight into Max’s fears and emotional conflict. Similarly, the use of mirrors is suggestive that not everything is as it seems, that perhaps there are two sides, or faces, to our central characters. Robert Zemeckis and his team have quite marvellously managed to make something terrifying, like living through the war, into something rather beautiful to watch. There are a few great moments during the film where slow motion is used to show Max’s internal camera capturing and savouring the moment, making memories for the future. Likewise the scene in which Marianne gives birth is juxtaposed by the devastation of an air raid, a poignant contrast of life and death illustrating how life goes on.
The musical score is used to amplify tensions and alongside long silences to really enhance the sense of fear that the characters and audience experience. The whole film is visually very enjoyable to watch, with fantastic costuming and set dressing, it really does feel like a step back in time. The only downside, and it is a small one, is the somewhat clunky CGI used in the opening but aside from this, the recreation of 1940s Casablanca and London is realised remarkably well.
It’s what’s not said that really enhances the performances of both Pitt and Cotillard
Both Pitt and Cotillard are great in this film, each complementing the other’s performance with a definite sense of chemistry. Pitt seems to effortlessly portray this character, allowing his facial expressions to much of the work - it’s a role that sort of reminds me of Se7en. Cotillard is both beautiful and brilliant. She plays the doting wife and mother with ease but taps into desperate emotion when needed giving her performance a definite depth. During the first act, Cotillard’s Marianne coaches Pitt’s Max, giving him pointers on how to act and behave as a loving husband under watchful eyes, which whilst humorous this subtly continues throughout the remainder of the film contributing to the ideas of doubt and suspicion. Simon McBurney has a small but very intense part, reminiscent of something out of 1984, whilst playing the part of Max’s superior is Jared Harris as Frank Heslop, who’s split between his official position and his friendship with Max.
There is a lot packed into this film and you’re never quite sure which direction it’s going to take, you’re shown just enough to keep you guessing. It is a slow film in places and takes a while to get going, but looking back, I think that it’s actually quite well constructed and paced as it allows the characters to really establish themselves and for the story to build up around them. Allied is no doubt a thrilling spy film with plenty of espionage and secrecy but there is so much more at the heart of it.
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