By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)

 

After his energetic, highly entertaining (not to mention vertigo-inducing) The Walk was unfairly ignored by both audiences and the Academy (how it wasn’t nominated for best visual effects is still a mystery), director Robert Zemeckis returns quickly to the big screen with Allied, a rousingly good-natured tribute to the classic films of the 1940’s.

Opening amidst the kind of expansive landscape that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Lean epic, we are introduced to Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), who is strategically dropped into the Moroccan desert just outside of Casablanca (the year is 1942). Making his way to the mythical city, Max is quickly partnered with his fellow collaborator, French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who has already ingratiated herself amongst the local elite community. Pretending to be husband and wife, Max and Marianne are required to obtain entry to an exclusive function, where their mission will be to assassinate the Nazi-affiliated German Ambassador who is attending the event.

During this dangerous mission in an exotic location, these agents begin to show genuine feelings for one another, and once the plan has been carried out, Max takes Marianne back to England with him. The two marry and start a family, enjoying a real sense of happiness even though the world seems to be falling apart around them.

When Max is ordered to appear before an extremely dour, oppressively secretive official (Simon McBurney), he receives information that will turn their lives upside down.

Allied is the type of film that has to be enjoyed in the spirit in which it has been made. Overly cynical moviegoers will dismiss everything they see and hear as complete twaddle, a forced tribute that never rings true. However, those who appreciate what writer Steven Knight and director Robert Zemeckis are doing, will embrace a richly enjoyable, atmospherically old-fashioned tale that encapsulates that classic aura quite nicely.

Zemeckis, who has combined old-school sensibilities and cutting-edge technology to memorable effect in films like the Back to the Future series, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and A Christmas Carol, enthusiastically brings Steven Knight’s intelligently knowing screenplay, which successfully uses various blueprints laid down in a number of romantic war films crafted during the 1940’s, to life. There is extensive use of CGI, but Zemeckis utilises all this technical wizardry to tell a compelling story, and one admires his restraint, not wanting to drown the film in excessive computer effects. An elaborately staged love scene does regrettably veer into Titanic territory.

Though tipping its hat to this kind of sub-genre in general, with Casablanca of course being the most apparent inspiration, there were other specific movies it did remind me of. The first is Joan of Paris (1942), starring Michele Morgan and Paul Henried, and directed by Robert Stevenson, who would go on to direct the Disney classic Mary Poppins and The Love Bug. The second is Frieda (1947), directed by Basil Deardon (Dead of Night, The League of Gentlemen, Victim), and headlined by David Farrar, Glynis Johns, and Mai Zetterling. The last is The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), starring the incomparable Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. All these films wonderfully combine the elements of romance and war, where the shadow of world conflict could tragically end a loving relationship at any moment. If you haven’t seen any of these films, I highly recommend them.

Knight has delivered some strong writing, namely with the films Dirty Pretty Things (2002), David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises (2007), and Locke (2013), the last of which he also directed. This talented scribe however did falter recently with a trio of lightweight entries; The Hundred-Foot Journey, Seventh Son, and Burnt. Thankfully here he is allowed to indulge in both character and locale, and his affection for classic film is evident. In fact, he devotes so much time to the evolution of Max and Marianne’s relationship in Casablanca, that some audiences may begin to wonder when the main plot will actually kick in (the advertising is admittedly misleading).

Pitt and Cotillard emit definite star power. It seemed prophetic when Pitt starred alongside Robert Redford in Spy Game (2001), as this charismatic performer is continuing to resemble the iconic actor in so many ways. Conveying the kind of big screen star presence that is disappearing from contemporary cinema, Pitt acquits himself purposefully in the role of Max. Oscar winner Cotillard is also perfectly cast, fully committing to the material and showing that chemistry does matter.

Other actors of note include Jared Harris, as Max’s grumpy but dryly funny superior, and McBurney as the ominous official (in fact, you almost swear he’s re-enacting the same role he played in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). The one anomaly is Matthew Goode, who despite a fine performance, is allotted a notably brief screen time, giving one the sense that his crucial role has been somewhat truncated.

As is always the case with Zemeckis, the film is brilliantly crafted, with excellent work from his regular cinematographer Don Burgess, and veteran composer Alan Silvistri, who has scored all of Zemeckis’ features since Romancing The Stone in 1984. Special praise must also go to editors Mick Audsley and Jeremiah O’Driscoll, production designer Gary Freeman (Maleficent, Everest), and costume designer Joanna Johnston (Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Unbreakable, Lincoln).

Though not in the same league as Casablanca, Allied is a deftly handled homage, respectful and affectionate towards the type of film that entranced audiences an eternity ago.

Rating: 4/5

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