Film Review: Allied (USA/UK, 2016) is strengthened by a tour de force performance from Marion Cotillard

Robert Zemeckis is a film-maker that has both enthralled and frustrated me. For the most part, his films can be exciting, fun and incredibly well-told; take the Back to the Future series, Cast Away or the classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But at his worst, his films can be corny and indulgent; What Lies Beneath, his motion-capture films like The Polar Express and even The Walk are examples of that.

But when I heard that he was making a spy thriller that is reminiscent of the classic film Casablanca, from a script written by screenwriter Steven Knight, who wrote great films like Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, I was psyched. And with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as icing on the cake, it sounds like it would be a sure-fire hit. So – does Allied live up to its potential?

Brad Pitt stars as Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer sent to Casablanca in French Morocco to assassinate the German ambassador. He is then teamed up with Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who had escaped from war-torn France after her resistance group was defeated and killed. The plan is to pose as husband and wife as a cover-up until the actual date of the party where the ambassador is going to be. But during that time, the two gradually grow close and are swept up in a sea of lies, secrets and deception that could put both of their lives at stake.

As is common of a Zemeckis‘ film, Allied looks fantastic and enjoys fantastic production values. The cinematography by Don Burgess is incredibly smooth and glowing, with some great use of CGI that gives the film a sleek and appealing look. Adding to that appeal is the costume design by Joanna Johnston, which is nostalgically striking. The musical score by Alan Silvestri is surprisingly post-modern in its approach, but it works, though can be intrusive during dramatic scenes.

The actors certainly hold up their end of the bargain, with Brad Pitt and especially Marion Cotillard giving stellar performances. Pitt is convincingly stoic and world-weary and looks the part of a debonair spy. Later in the film, he is also convincing when his character starts to open up emotionally, as his character becomes anguished due to the fact that his wife may not be who she appears to be. This may not be his best performance in his so-called World War II trilogy (consisting of Inglourious Basterds and Fury), but it is still a strong presence nonetheless.

As for Cotillard, she is the best asset in the film. She brings a lot of depth to her character of Marianne, while also pulling off the sensuality and allure of her character with aplomb. It is exactly those two traits that bring Pitt’s character out of his shell and the two are good together, while keeping the audience guessing about her character’s motives.

Nothing is more prevalent about the two and their shared chemistry like in the scene where the two make love in a car during a sandstorm. Although the leads are likable and worth caring for, they do not elicit the passion needed to make the romance truly blossom; leaving a bit of an emotional hole, where the heart should be.

The supporting cast are actually a bit wasted with their thin parts, like Lizzy Caplan as Vatan’s sister, who is written as an blatantly obvious lesbian, but Simon McBurney is fantastic in his small role as the spy hunter; same as Jared Harris as Vatan’s superior and Matthew Goode in a surprise cameo.

The storytelling is a bit of a letdown considering the talent involved. While the plot does unfold neatly enough, there are scenes where Zemeckis just overdoes the cliches (of the films Allied is meant to be referencing) with such blunt force, that the film becomes laughable at times. Some of it is definitely intentional (like the use of coarse language), but there are scenes that were clearly meant to be serious, but never feel that way; like a scene where Marianne is giving birth during an air strike.

But none of the cheesiness and corniness will matter negatively in the way the ending does. No matter how you analyze it or how it was built up on, the ending just comes across as anti-climactic and it will be a real letdown for some.

The talent involved really should have made Allied a fantastic film, but the final result only comes out as an entertainingly average experience. Still, we’ll always have Marion Cotillard.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Allied hits cinemas on Boxing Day.