Without expressing a lick of enthusiasm, Allied refuses to deviate from big-budget norms for even a split-second. Every progressing conflict is a tepid stutter-step forward, as wooden characters act out a tale of espionage with no danger in the making. Writer Steven Knight spins a decadent wheel of dishonorable allegiances and wicked hypnotism, but director Robert Zemeckis struggles to hold attention through Nazi-period secrets that hold little drama in their unveiling. There’s nothing tremendously incriminating throughout Brad Pitt’s quest for justice, nor is there sufficient excitement with something so cut-and-dry. Such is the purgatory of a rigid mainstream thriller so focused on spectacle that it forgets to tell a compelling story, despite whatever big-name actors might show up to the party.
Pitt stars as Max Vatan, an American wing commander living in England with his beautiful wife – Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) – and their newborn daughter. Max’s continued work keeps him in the line of danger, something that Marianne understands because of her background in the same field. It was during an assassination mission in Casablanca that the two met, celebrating victory with Max’s wishes to wed his dangerous female partner. All is right in their quaint little lives, until Max’s bosses express concern that Marianne is a German spy. Distraught and in disbelief, Max must go about the next 72 hours like everything is normal, praying that his wife doesn’t prove to be an enemy of the state. Mainly so he doesn’t have to execute her.
Unfortunately, Nazi occupations and jilted betrayals merely lead to a less enticing Brad Pitt performance than we’re used to. He’s given no range to spice Max Vatan up beyond uniformed regality, as Zemeckis reins in a talent who’s best work comes from wackier character acting. Pitt’s conflicted father/husband/solider lacks any real presence besides dashing looks, pulling Cotillard into his generic, drab existence just by proxy. A man is fighting to keep his “perfect” Hallmark life, yet somehow the gravity of possible destructive outcomes dissipates with each sluggish second that passes. Good movies pull viewers in, but Allied never musters that intimate connection with audiences thanks to procedural tight-rope walking without flair.
Zemeckis’ strongest weapon is period aesthetic, as costumes and scenery transplant viewers into a tumultuous WWII battleground. Max is always on call because the Germans never quit fighting, especially during aerial bombing raids as anti-aircraft guns try to shoot down Nazi warplanes flying over England. The night sky flickers with deadly fireworks, bringing down a fighter plane that lands in Max’s backyard. After the incident, Max remarks to Marianne about how they should escape and forget about the war for a day, and then we cut to their happy family having a sunny picnic right in front of the downed Nazi wreckage.
There’s no escape from the fighting, something that’s confirmed every time Max darts back to his military base after being phoned. While the story lacks exploratory staying power, scenes at least look and feel the part, torn from the black-and-white pages of high school history books.
Uniforms aside, Allied evokes a dull stuffiness that never hits upon a story that’s meant for two-hour-plus productions. For any movie to meander that long, you’d expect shifts and twists that keep viewers guessing. Something to keep attentions gripped and excitement spiked. Not a by-the-numbers thriller minus any thrills, where overstaged cinematic “sophistication” ensures the most Hollywood-gleamed setups possible.
It’s the kind of movie where characters remain clothed during sex scenes (because, classy!), and where Max can get nameless characters killed while he selfishly pursues his own investigation of Marianne (without remorse). Side players like Jared Harris’ Frank Heslop and Lizzy Caplan’s lesbian sister are lost as pawns in Max’s game, with each scene seeming more forced than the last. Even more forced than Zemeckis’ “fun-filled” asides where sinners gallivant sexually in gardens during parties (apparently that was a thing in the 40s?) or shout lame anecdotes post-wedding receptions, both of which stick boisterously out of place.
From frame one, Robert Zemeckis promises storytelling rife with daring courage and dangerous love. We see Brad Pitt parachute onto a sandy desert dune, paying homage to gorgeous cinematography. Then he drives into Casablanca, meets the girl of his dreams and so begins his future nightmare. We wait for Zemeckis and writer Steven Knight to make good on their promise, but then the credits roll and we’re left unfazed by an ending that even mainstream audiences will find effortlessly predictable.
Thrills are bone-dry, performances seem hollow and pacing challenges that of a sloth’s land-speed record. Allied is your average cookie-cutter espionage thriller, wasting researched production values and inherent unpredictability on forbidden romance in a time of war – a prestige piece without the prestige, and certainly no ally of mine.
Allied is a prestige drama without the prestige, wooden in appearance and lacking any true drama.