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Categories: Movie Reviews

Allied gives 2016 a much-needed touch of class thanks to stunning performances and refined direction from Robert Zemeckis.

The first, and maybe only, thing that you heard about Allied was the rumoured affair between its two lead stars, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. This isn’t so bad because it tells you, at least, the primary thing that you need to know about the film. Not that the on-screen romance is one to set tabloids and hearts ablaze but rather that this is a film built upon the foundation of star power. The hollow celebrity culture that has permeated into pretty much every aspect of our lives, including politics, has devalued the term but Allied is a reaffirmation of faith in an old, and gold, idea.

Pitt’s star power has, artistically, hindered him more than it has helped him throughout his career as an actor. He may be the greatest living example of a star. He’s more concept than man. Which is a shame considering how well he does when he’s given an actual character to play. It’s a little difficult to write parts for a man who will only ever be viewed as Brad Pitt. However, a smart enough director knows that you can take that persona and put it under a microscope, you can test its limits, to magnificent effect. And Robert Zemeckis is most definitely smart enough. You can see why his work is often mistaken for Spielberg’s. He directs with a hand so deftly impressive that it never demands that the audience notice it.

The setting and the story, of two lovers caught in the machine of the second world war, will conjure up images of Michael Curtiz’s infamous Casablanca in your mind’s eye, which is no doubt intentional (Casablanca is one of the story’s primary locations). But really what Zemeckis evokes most is the technical aptitude of Orson Welles. Back now, and very welcome, in the realm of live-action after his hit-and-miss stint in motion capture animation, Zemeckis has taken away some invaluable knowledge from the experience. He’s able to blend CG effects into precisely the kind of film that doesn’t utilise them for their own benefit.

This is part of the reason why it will struggle to find a loving audience. It is, as a whole, too new school for the oldies and too old-fashioned for the younguns. Pitt and Cotillard are your focus at all times but Zemeckis never toils to make them relatable. You have to care about the idea, the emotionality, of love more than in their specific relationship and his vision of the past, wartime London particularly, will easily vex the prudish. “I’m going to miss the blitz” laments Pitt’s openly gay sister, before pulling her date in for a kiss “no one cares who does what to who”.

Allied portrays war the way that only history books have the honesty to tell it, with its fear and paranoia counterbalanced by all the drugs and sex people could get their hands on. Screenwriter Steven Knight has a track record for showing London in a different light than the tourism board approved portrait of landmarks and grand old buildings. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t do its best to dazzle you, if the film had to be boiled down to just one word then that word would be sweeping, but it never tries to smooth out its elegance by muting its violence and vice. It’s as refreshing here as it ever has been, but Allied is fundamentally a film about its leads.

Personally, I had hoped that the film was going to provide some commentary on recent partisan political distrust but Allied is a performance piece, through and through. It only really comes together in its third act when Marion Cotillard reminds you that movie stars were born in the silent era for a reason. She is, without question, one of the most talented actors working in film today and her quietly powerful performance, playing off of Pitt’s equally brilliant turn from simmering to boiling, is one of 2016’s best. The film’s promotional poster displays them as the only two reasons to see this film and, by god, they’re the only two reasons you need.

Allied is out now in cinemas.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a freelance copywriter and lifelong cinephile. For writing enquiries, you can email him at mark@cinemajam.com and you can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

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Posted on Dec 21, 2016

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