THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Allied tries a little too hard to be a modern-day Casablanca. Part of it takes place in the same city during the same general time period, there's a romance that may or may not be ill-fated, and the themes of loyalty and romance are prominent. This is a recipe for failure. No other movie can be Casablanca. It's Casablanca, after all! Still, if you're going to be directly influenced by another movie, that's not a bad one to pick. Even if it does wear its inspiration on its sleeve with more obviousness than is necessary, Allied works as a romantic drama set during wartime.
Brad Pitt plays U.S. intelligence officer Max Vatan. He pairs up with French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in Casablanca, where their mission is to assassinate the German ambassador. The two fall in love through the process. A year later, they're living happily in England. Max receives word from his superior officers that Marianne may, in fact, be a German spy. He sets out to prove them wrong, desperately hoping that they actually are.
Director Robert Zemeckis loves CGI. His movies are typically filled with it, sometimes in obvious ways (recreating the World Trade Center for The Walk), other times more subtly (the airbound scenes in Flight). Allied has a couple of sequences where the CGI is piled on a bit thick, including a childbirth that takes place beneath a firefight. It occasionally feels as though Zemeckis is including them because he can, rather than because they're right for the story being told. Allied is more intimate than epic, so the grandiose moments tend to stand out like a sore thumb, clashing with the Casablanca-esque tone the film works so hard to replicate.
Beyond those issues, though, things go considerably better. The first half interestingly establishes the central romance. Max and Marianne are in a bizarre position. They don't know each other, but they're forced to pose as husband and wife in order to carry out a potentially fatal mission. The stress of that, coupled with the fact that few others could even begin to understand what it feels like to do their work, causes an intense connection to be formed. Pitt and Cotillard fill in a few of the gaps in Steven Knight's screenplay, suggesting the attraction between characters that's hard to convey in mere dialogue.
The second half focuses on Max's desire to prove Marianne's innocence, which causes him great turmoil. Pitt makes it clear that Max is attempting to convince himself just as much as he is his superiors. During their initial mission, Marianne explains her strategy of keeping the emotions “real” when undercover, so as to make her ruses more credible. This piece of knowledge eats away at him. Allied generates suspense by making us wonder, too, if she's possibly working an angle. To the movie's credit, the way that scenario plays itself out is difficult to see coming. There are no absurd surprise twists here, just a situation that unfolds in a tense, realistic way.
The performances in Allied are excellent, and Zemeckis eventually finds the pace after an admittedly slow start. The picture works better as a portrait of a man worried about what his wife might be withholding from him than it does as a WWII story. On the second count, it's so-so. On the first, it's got a ring of truth that proves engrossing.
( out of four)
Allied is rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use. The running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!