What a missed opportunity. All of the ingredients are found within “Allied” to result in a prime piece of Oscar bait. You have Academy Award winners in director Robert Zemeckis, as well as stars Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt. Nominee Steven Knight penned the screenplay. The list goes on. And yet, “Allied” feels like a film that knows the path to righteousness, but continually misses the mark. The performances are on point and it looks very nice, but the twisty story isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is. The experience winds up being hollow when it should be fulfilling and swoon-worthy. Too often, it just makes you roll your eyes.
“Allied” is overly reliant on audiences being in the dark when it comes to character motivations. At the same time, it doesn’t trust viewers to follow along, so the clues left in most scenes are shockingly obvious. No one will mistake this movie for something like “The Usual Suspects.” Quality-wise, it’s closer to a middle of the road feature like “The Good German” than something that transcends. The nods to classic cinema and the affection for the period are clear, but you need more to make for a truly entertaining film. Cotillard and Pitt try to save the day, but there’s only so much that they can do here.
Starting off in 1942, during World War II, we’re introduced to Max Vatan (Pitt), an intelligence officer literally parachuting into the fray. Dropped into North Africa on an assassination mission, he’s paired with French resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard). Both are well regarded spies with reputations that precede themselves, as we learn during their time spent posing as husband and wife. During the operation, they become close, initially against their better judgement, though it proves useful in fooling a German officer (August Diehl). They’re successful and escape Casablanca with their lives, though the happy ending they expect to have in London is not in the cards for them.
Though Max is Canadian, he works for the British and is kind of a rock star. As such, the government has him primed for some big jobs. He’d rather stay home with Marianne and their daughter. Everything changes when the higher ups bring him information that points to the fact that his wife is a German spy. Max is outraged, and doubly so when he’s told to take part in a covert operation to determine if she’s truly a traitor. Confiding in his sister Bridget Vatan (Lizzy Caplan), a fellow officer, Max defies orders and sets out to prove Marianne’s innocence. Thus begins a race against time, though the outcome is more or less telegraphed early on.
There’s an undeniable appeal in watching Cotillard and Pitt in a period setting. They don’t share the best chemistry, which is a shame, but they do turn in solid work on their own. Cotillard is sexy and mysterious, almost helping the film survive its own script at times. Pitt is a bit stiff, but it’s fitting for the period character he’s playing. No one will confuse this with his previous WWII work in either “Fury” or “Inglourious Basterds,” though. The charm of A-list movie stars in a period setting is what this production is hoping to sell you on. Neither does their best work, but both are more than adequate. They just have no real support system in place.
Aside from Cotillard and Pitt, no one really leaves a mark in “Allied.” Caplan is absolutely wasted in a role that seems like much of it was left on the cutting room floor. Someone like Matthew Goode provides a decent cameo, but he’s given little to do. Other players like Jared Harris and Simon McBurney are similarly underutilized. Aside from the aforementioned Diehl, other supporting players of note include Daniel Betts, Sally Messham and more. They’re all very much in the background, often disappearing for large periods of time.
Compared to some of his more recent outings, Zemeckis is positively restrained here. There’s a strong period look to things, to which both Zemeckis and his cinematographer Don Burgess deserve credit. There’s also a solid score, courtesy of composer Alan Silverstri. The failings lay mostly with Knight, who can’t make the story worth its salt. Knight is a normally reliable scribe, but here he becomes too invested in the mystery, something Zemeckis is guilty of as well. They also make Pitt’s character a bit too much of a superhero, though that’s kind of keeping with the leading man characters of yore. The problem is, for every positive with the performances or the look of “Allied,” there’s a negative having to do with the story. When it’s not making you roll your eyes, it’s threatening to bore you. It’s downright frustrating.
When you get right down to it, “Allied” is just too traditional for its own good. Zemeckis and company believed they were making a classic in their own right, but it’s too often a pale imitation. Oscar may take notice in a technical category or two, but in all likelihood, this will be passed over. Things of this ilk have succeeded before, but simply put, they’ve been better products. Fans of the stars may enjoy watching them in something like this, but they have the right to expect more. Zemeckis also deserves credit for trying something new, but the results speak for themselves. “Allied” isn’t quite a turkey during the Thanksgiving season, but it’s closer than it should be.