WHO IS MARIANNE BEAUSEJOUR?
Film director Robert Zemeckis may not be as illustrious as other legendary Hollywood directors such as Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, or Clint Eastwood, but his movies have been (usually) “visual innovate”, with some becoming memorable iconic. Starting out with his directorial debut film I Wanna Hold Your Hand in 1978, Zemeckis caught many critics and moviegoers with his 1984 movie Romancing the Stone, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. From there, Zemeckis branched out to produce many feature films, including The Back to the Future Trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forest Gump, Cast Away, Flight, and his recent 2015 film The Walk. Now, Zemeckis, along with Paramount Pictures, presents his newest film with the spy espionage thriller tale in the movie Allied. Does this WWII melodrama stand proudly in Zemeckis’s catalogue of films or does it fail to capture its story of love and war?
Parachuting into the French Morocco and arriving in Casablanca, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), a Canadian intelligence officer, is paired with French spy Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), tasked to poise as darling husband and loving wife as they prepare to assassinate a German Nazi ambassador during the height of World War II. Playing to their specific marital roles, the line between their play-acting romance and their real-life romance begins to blur, with Max cautious to fall in love with Marianne, who states that their relationship won’t work. With their mission completed, Max proposes to Marianne, with the pair traveling back to London and welcoming their daughter (Anna) into the world and trying to make for themselves during wartime Britain. However, still employed in the military service, Max is floored when his superiors deliver a suspicious accusation that Marianne is actually a double agent (a Nazi spy). With a time’s table set (72 hours) before the truth is uncovered, Max sets out on his own investigation, hoping to prove his wife’s innocence before the clocking runs out and difficult choice must be made.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve seeing plenty of movies over the years (some good, some not so good), I’ve seen plenty of Robert Zemeckis’s feature films. Some of them have become my personal favorite like The Back to the Future Trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forest Gump, and The Polar Express. Although, like a lot of directors, Zemeckis has had some mediocre / flops movies, including Beowulf, Mars Needs Moms, and A Christmas Carol. As for Allied, I remember first seeing the trailer for the movie during the televised 2016’s Summer Olympic Games. It looked interesting (it had Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, and had the backdrop setting of WWWII, but it didn’t completely grab me to make me get excited about nor anticipate its release. However, I had the day on its theatrical release day, so I decided to head over to my local theater to check it out. What did I think of it? Well, while the feature paints a beautiful story in war, espionage, and love, Zemeckis’s Allied, despites its star power, lacks a powerful romance and a duo narratives of its two halves. It’s a good movie, but not as memorable as it wants to be.
With Zemeckis directing the feature, the film’s script is penned by Steven Knight, known for writing the screenplays for The Hundred-Foot Journey, Eastern Promises, and Amazing Grace. Knight’s script for the feature is a concise and straightforward narrative that doesn’t make the feature go off on unnecessary tangents (well…maybe one scene towards the third act). Zemeckis, along with Knight, paint a very intriguing tale in Allied, focusing on two “Allied” agents (intelligence officer and a undercover agent) as they meet / fall in love during their mission and ultimately marry and have a kid, only to be stricken with the news that one might be an enemy spy, casting doubt in their relationship (if there was any to begin with). In short, the setup narrative works well and delivers (i.e. Is Marianne a spy or not?) and the journey to the film’s end is a satisfying payoff.
In terms of presentation, Allied is beautiful. Zemeckis, along with Don Burgess (his frequent cinematographer), utilize the whole WWII setting as the film’s backdrop. Perhaps the most interesting usage of this is using the French Morocco / Casablanca as the primary set-piece for the first half of the film. While many WWII films use famous cities / locales during the wartime like London (which Allied uses), Paris, Berlin, etc.), the usage of Casablanca is a rare setting to see (of course with the exception of the famous movie Casablanca), making the first half interesting to see. Zemeckis also creates some sweeping shots to let you soak up the film’s setting / environment as well as some tense scenes. Interestingly, the WWII setting doesn’t overtake the film’s main narrative, but rather “enhances” it. In addition, the production quality of Allied (art direction, costumes, make-up, etc.) are all great and add to the film’s time period. With all of this (plus Alan Silvestri’s musical score), Allied feels like a throwback WWII drama feature from Hollywood’s Golden Age, which is kind of refresher to see in modern cinema.
The main problem with Allied lies within its narrative and how that narrative plays out. In truth, the films sort of feels like two movies in one (if you know what I mean), with the first half playing out in the French Morocco (spy agents infiltrating a German Nazi ambassador) as the second half plays out as a spy thriller (the mystery behind if Marianne is a German spy or not). The problem (at least for me) is within these two narratives as one lack something and then vice versa. As I said above, I do like the whole Casablanca setting and wished it was the film’s backdrop from the entire film, but the romance characterization between Max and Marianne is more of a glossy overview rather than a complex / deeply passionate relationship. When the movie switches narratives (heading to London and Max’s journey to discover Marianne’s true intentions), the film’s suspense picks up, but the setting is very benign in comparison to the exoticness of Casablanca and it’s still hard to believe that Max and Marianne are truly, madly, and deeply in love. All in all, Allied is polish feature that lacks that romantic substance, working better in mystery and suspense rather in matters of the heart.
In terms of the cast, actor Brad Pitt and actress Marion Cotillard (both have impressive career movie acting resume) bring the necessary “A-list” star power required to sell Allied to the masses. However, the duo are a sort of mirage reflection of the film’s overall strength and weakness. Just like the movie’s story and presentation, Pitt and Cotillard, with their high caliber acting talents in today’s Hollywood scene, definitely have screen presence and movie star glamour to capture the right amount “beauty” in this period piece / sweeping romance. Unfortunately, their chemistry with each other is a bit muddy. Both are excellent as their respective characters, with Pitt’s strong camera presence felt in several scenes as Max (especially a few action scenes) and Cotillard’s overall mystery and handling of Marianne, but it’s hard fully buy into their romantic connection with each other.
Beyond Pitt and Cotillard, Allied’s supporting cast is relatively small, but with recognizable faces. This includes actress Lizzy Caplan as Bridget Vatan (Max’s sister) and actor Jared Harris as Max’s commanding officer Frank Heslop (btw…just found out that Jared Harris is the son of the late actor Richard Harris. Mind = Blown. Did not make the connection until a few days ago). In much more smaller roles (more like one-scene cameo appearances) are actors Matthew Goode and Simon McBurney as Guy Sangster, a recently injured soldier who knew Marianne from several years ago, and a S.O.E. Official (McBurney’s character isn’t given a name). Despite their screen time, these actors (and actress) do well with the material that they are given in the movie.
Who is Marianne Beausejour? And is really a German spy? Such are the fundamental question asked in the espionage drama Allied. Director Robert Zemeckis’s latest film is well-crafted film (very beautiful looking), spinning a suspenseful yarn of war, spy nuances, and ambiguous doubts of betrayal. Unfortunately, the film is a bit perplexing with its two very distinct narrative halves (first and second half of the feature) and, while two lead actors are great and talented, their chemistry (and the film’s portrayal of their relationship) is bland, which is a big selling-point of the feature. To me, was good, but nothing grand. Backdrop setting of WWII and of Casablanca was nice and mystery / suspenseful was good, but the movie doesn’t have that sweeping romantic value that it was looking for and doesn’t have a sold replay value. Thus, I would say that this movie is best to be seeing as a rental (one or two viewing will suffice). While it may not be a as strong as Zemeckis’s other works (the same goes with Pitt and Cotillard), Allied is an intriguing tale of love and war, but more so on its espionage thrills and WWII backdrop settings.
3.5 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: November 23rd, 2016
Reviewed On: November 29th, 2016
Allied is rated R for or violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use