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Allied, the good, and the bad

A decent idea of a film, lacking a payoff
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
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Oh, what, you want to talk about “Allied,” the film?

Where’s the fun in that? Wouldn’t you rather talk about Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Marion Cotillard? Popcorn, please! Look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. Would you really rather go in-depth on the art direction?

Twice Brad Pitt has made espionage movies about a spy married to a woman who might be an enemy out to betray him. And each time it has marked the end of a marriage, exploding with supernova force into tabloid headlines about  rumored on-set affairs.  You really do have to scratch your head about the whole thing, in a movies-as-veiled-biography sort of way. You also have to scratch your head about the whole thing in a Groundhog-Day-as-doctrine-of-eternal-recurrence sort of way. There, I’ve worked in both [The Guardian’s] David Thompson film criticism and Friedrich Nietzsche philosophy. Don’t you feel better about gossiping now?

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Cotillard and Pitt on the set of “Allied”

A World War II romantic thriller from director Robert Zemeckis, “Allied” starts with Pitt’s French Canadian spy parachuting into the Sahara. The film itself drops hard into that mythical landing zone of the smart-adult-entertainment-that-nobody-makes-anymore, too heady for teenagers, but swerving back into its lane before reaching intellectualism.  It’s a deeply old-fashioned film, reliant on mature stars and gentle collective craft.  The formula works beautifully in the first act set in Vichy Morocco, with Pitt and Cotillard making eyes and babies as they plot to kill a Nazi official.

After the mission, with his new wife, Pitt moves to a sleepy desk job in England. He stuffs “Allied”’s momentum in the top drawer with the lost pens and half-chewed bubble gums. Some of the very conventional plot points feel, like that half-chewed bubble gum. The script seems to, quickly, routinely, introduce and wipe away some plot points, as if screenwriter Steven Knight knows they are going nowhere and know the audience knows they are going nowhere.   As a result, “Allied” comes across as a half-chewed movie, like the filmmakers got going on a decent idea but ultimately couldn’t swallow it.

I should end by mentioning that Zemeckis has fallen in love with using CG to change the appearance of actors. He did so with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “The Walk.” He repeats himself, I believe, by distractingly de-aging Pitt a decade or so.  But repeating a decade or so ago – isn’t that what “Allied” is all about?

“Allied” came out in theaters November 23rd.

Kevin Bowen, based in Texas, is ScreenComment’s Senior Film Critic (@Kevin__Bowen).

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