Allied got a fair amount of attention in recent months as it was rumored that Brad Pitt cheated on Angelina Jolie with his co-star, Marion Cotillard during the filming of the movie. I don’t know and I don’t care if that’s true (though it would be ironic if, after meeting Jolie on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, an action spy comedy, he would meet the demise of their relationship on the set of an action spy drama). What I care about is that the trailers and TV spots sucked me in with their focus on story, mystery, and atmosphere and that Robert Zemeckis is once again behind the camera.
It takes a little while for Allied to get to the well-publicized hook, but the time leading up to it is well-spent. The relationship between Pitt’s Max Vatan and Cotillard’s Marianne Bouséjour is fleshed out at a believable pace and firmly established throughout the first act of the film. It’s helped along by the undeniable chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard and then punctuated by a relatively brief but supremely effective action scene that serves to ensure that audiences don’t get complacent and forget that Vatan and Bouséjour aren’t your typical romantic leads.
Also established as their relationship grows is the fact that Bouséjour is the outrightly superior spy between the two. She takes the lead on their missions. She displays confidence whereas he makes small mistakes. In fact, there’s a scene early in the film where Vatan shows remarkable dexterity with a deck of cards, placed there by Zemeckis as a direct contradiction to how Vatan is always showing his hand in the metaphorical spy game. It was a nice, subtle piece of symbolism that parlays just how much thought goes into laying all of the groundwork for the inevitable twist to come.
From there, the film becomes a fun, solid – if not terribly imaginative – mystery. The heart of the story isn’t in the twist, itself, but on the potential consequences of the twist on the family at its core. It’s an extremely personal tale that’s rooted in a story of a much larger scope.
Along the way, Cotillard and Pitt deliver in every scene – whether it be together or on their own. Pitt does a fine job of walking the line between husband and soldier, his internal conflict just under the surface, dangerously close to breaching, at all times. On her end, Cotillard communicates the subtleties of Bouséjour’s allegiances perfectly; she could truly be loyal to Germany or not. And she forces the viewer to desperately long for her to be who she claims to be. But you’ve seen how masterful Bouséjour is at misdirection and you’ve heard the things she’s said about her work so you just can’t help but wonder. The film clocks in at around two hours long, pre-ending credits, and the time speeds by, almost entirely due to the inexorable watchability of the lead duo.
The story, itself, is fun though, as alluded to above, not especially groundbreaking. But that’s okay. If every film was groundbreaking then no film would be. The fun lies in looking for the clues and hints to Bouséjour’s allegiances. And the clues are there. That attention to detail adds an additional layer of depth and complexity to the film that makes up for any perceived lack of originality. Originality comes in many different forms and, in Allied, it’s all in the minutiae.
Allied isn’t going to crack my 2016 Top Ten (which is getting crowded enough as it is), but it’s a good time at the movies with two powerful and vulnerable performances that supplies it with that little extra boost. Unlike many mysteries, the audience is actually given the information necessary to unravel the enigma on their own. I personally liked that and I actually felt proud of myself for picking up on them and figuring it out before the final reveal. So, there’s a level of viewer rewardship that isn’t often present in film, for those who choose to play along in their heads. All of that combines to provide a solid adult thriller just before the onslaught of year-end blockbusters and Oscar bait.
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