There are few directors in the Cinema Fraternity today who enjoy an illustrious career such as Robert Zemeckis does. With classics like the Back to the Future Trilogy, Forrest Gump, Castaway, The Polar Express and The Christmas Carol to name a few, Zemeckis’s prolific productions span the full range of film genres. Zemeckis’s long association with Spielberg throughout his filmography may possibly have originated from their similar story-telling styles. Both have this quality to imbibe emotions into their stories focussing on base human attributes and relationships no matter what the subject matter might be. Back to the Future was a runaway sci-fi adventure but the centre-point of the story was realized in human interactions and how Doc and Marty travel through time to realise a life with their family and loved ones. This singular characteristic of their film-making styles makes is what makes their stories so memorable, in my opinion.
So, when I came to know that Zemeckis was working on a period spy drama, my interest was bound to be piqued. Allied is based on the time when World War II was at its peak and there was fierce counter-intelligence activity being conducted among the warring factions. Max Vatan, played by Brad Pitt, is an Intelligence Officer of the Royal Canadian Air Force who is deployed in Casablanca in French Morocco on a mission to assassinate the Nazi German Ambassador. Max is instructed to find his to be cohort, a French Resistance agent called Marianne Beausejour, played by Marion Cotillard, who was well-versed in the French Moroccan ways. Marianne’s expertise and experience in the Nazi community there proves to be invaluable for them to be able to find passage into the German Konsulat to carry out their mission. As they go through the motions as a team, their false pretense of being husband and wife turns into real love for each other. After accompanying each other on several other missions, they finally return to Canada for a peaceful life away from war. Soon after their marriage, Marianne gives birth to a beautiful boy and their perfect family is complete. If only that were true…
Things take an unexpected turn when one fateful day, the Canadian Secret Service apprises Max that Information was constantly being leaked to Germany from his part of the neighborhood. Having shown incriminating evidence, Max was told that his wife Marianne was not who he thought she was and that she had been leaking information to the enemy right under his nose. Shocked and disturbed by this revelation, Max tries his best to convince the authorities that this couldn’t be possible even in the slightest but the seed of doubt had been sown. The agent who had until then spied against the worst dictators of the world was now commissioned to spy on his own wife.
The first act of Allied takes its own time to establish the state of the chaotic world the characters lived in and how the dire circumstances bring them together from compatriots to companions. Nazi-occupied French Morocco and war-torn London are both portrayed in grisly detail. Pitt and Cotillard share a never before seen chemistry on screen and bring commendable authenticity to their characters. I couldn’t help but be reminded of that scene from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds where Pitt accompanies Diane Kruger to a Nazi Party and speaks the most deplorable German possible almost blowing away their covers. Well, that would probably have been more interesting as compared to the slow-paced first-act that Zemeckis puts you through. At one point in time, you start questioning if this much effort was worth it to assassinate just one German Ambassador in a sleepy little corner of the world. The much delayed second act is when things start getting a little bit interesting. After the revelation is made, the subsequent tension between the couple makes for a treat to watch as we, as an audience, are also pulled into the dilemma that you can either trust Marianne or you can root for Max to find out the truth. However, this thrill lasts for a very short time as the story wraps up quickly in a most predictable way.
Zemeckis’s Allied was a good idea that fell prey to the very quality he is loved for. He took his own time putting their relationship into the centre-point. This was, of course, crucial to the story but in my humble opinion, the first act could have been put in a more crisp manner, allowing the story to move on to the more appealing second act. This would not only have given the much needed pace to the narrative but would also have given more time in the screenplay to the nerve-wracking suspense that makes you sit up and watch closely for any signs of back-stabbing treason in Marianne’s stance.
Having said that, Allied does tell a coherent story and is able to weave it into the backdrop of World War II effortlessly. This is definitely not one of his better works but Zemeckis is our guilty pleasure. Despite the apparent flaws, you can only respect his story and appreciate the human emotion he establishes so masterfully.
gobblpoint: With a legendary director at the helm and a stellar cast at the fore, you just don’t miss such films. Watch it for the unconventional love-story and the seamless execution of the same.
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