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Allied ••1/2

allied_filmStarring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Steven Knight
Action/Drama/Romance, Rated: R
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: November 23, 2016


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, will you join forces with me in reviewing this next movie?

Only if my fears about Allied can be allayed. Let’s recap.

The movie opens with Canadian spy Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting into French Morocco during World War II. His mission is to team up with French allied spy Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in a plot to assassinate a German ambassador. Vatan and Beausejour pretend to be married, and during the pretense they find themselves falling in love.

After the mission, Max invites Marianne to move to London to be his wife. After some weeks of vetting, she’s cleared and they proceed to have a child. About a year later, Max is called into his commander’s office. They suspect Marianne is a German spy and want Max to lay out some fake secret info. If the info leaks out, they know Marianne is a spy – and Max must kill her.

Greg, Allied represents a noble attempt to weave a love story into wartime drama, and I would say that director Robert Zemeckis has partially succeeded. There are some stylish elements to the movie, as when Vatan and Beausejour make love inside a car caught in a sandstorm. There are also some memorable performances, most notably by Marion Cotillard who oscillates skillfully between smoldering vixen and ruthless killer.

Allied tries to be a great movie but only attains the status of ‘good’ movie for several reasons. First, there is the understated performance of Brad Pitt. Frankly, his onscreen charisma is missing here and pales in comparison to that of co-star Cotillard. Second, we have the problem of predictability. We know that the assassination of the ambassador must succeed early in the film, otherwise there would be no film. And we also know that Beausejour must be a spy or there could be no dramatic ending.

The film is basically split in half by the meeting of the spies and the execution of their mission, and the “blue dye” indictment of Marianne. I thought the first half of the film dragged. There was too much time spent in the “getting to know you” segment of the film and the ultimate execution of the ambassador. I kept waiting for something to happen and I had to wait a full hour of the film before it did.

The second half of the film was actually entertaining. We witness Max trying everything he can to clear his wife’s name. Finally we had a goal and some conflict, rather than dinner parties and brunches.

I see this as a “buddy” story with Max and Marianne taking equal parts in the telling. Both are interesting heroes. They are professional killers and good at their jobs. They are also deeply devoted to their causes. And, in the end, deeply devoted to each other.

I actually thought the first half of the movie was important not just for character development but also for relationship development. We need to discover who these two people are, and we need to witness the blossoming of their love. Plus our two heroes do have a goal in the first half, which is to kill the ambassador. For me, the first half was necessary although I do wish it had been executed with more pizzazz from Pitt and from Zemeckis.

As we have two halves to the film, we have two separate hero’s journeys. I consider Vatan to be the main hero of the story. He’s first sent to the dangerous world of Casablanca to complete a mission of killing a man, and then he’s sent to London with the mission of discovering his wife’s true identity. We often see dual journeys in the movies, with the second journey usually being far more dangerous and painful than the first.

The question I have is: Did Vatan undergo a personal transformation? It’s hard to say. The fact that we don’t know makes him less than a memorable hero. He’s certainly put through the wringer and shows remarkable tenacity in the pursuit of the truth, but he probably had this tenacity already. Vatan has no clear mentors, other than perhaps Frank Heslop (Jared Harris) who counsels him to take the charges against Beausejour seriously. Vatan’s skills as a spy and as a killer suggest a number of implicit mentors who trained him well in the past.

I think Max Vatan does have a mentor in the first half of the film: Marianne. She instructs him on the finer points of Parisian French accents. And guides him through the new world of life in Casablanca. She’s the one who has laid the groundwork for the mission by creating social contacts that Max would be challenged to build. Once they return to London, her mentoring ends – as all good mentor / mentee relationships should.

Allied is a slow-moving film at first which picks up in the second half. I was bored for the first hour and felt a bit more engaged in the second. I can’t say I’d want a second look – or even recommend this film to friends. I give Allied just 2 Reels out of 5.

Max and Marianne are a good “buddy” hero duo with a common goal and strong skills. I think Max and Marianne do undergo a transformation since they both start out jaded regarding relationships – especially relationships between spies. I give them 3 Heroes out of 5.

Finally, there is a small amount of mentoring going on here with Marianne coaching Max in the ways of Casablanca life. Otherwise, we have the unseen mentors of the training that both received. I give the mentoring just 2 Mentors out of 5.

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Allied aspires to be a great movie in the spirit of Casablanca and even ends in a dramatic airport scene like the iconic Humphrey Bogart film. But unlike the original Casablanca, this World War II romance story fails to soar in terms of character development and dramatic build-up. This doesn’t mean the movie isn’t worth watching. Marion Cotillard gives an Oscar-worthy performance, and Zemeckis succeeds in bringing some stylish elements to the big screen. Overall, I give Allied 3 Reels out of 5.

I see Vatan as the main hero; the story begins with him and ends with him. He endures two dangerous hero journeys with minimal mentoring and minimal transformation. Vatan’s heroic qualities are his courage and tenacity, and we admire his determination to uncover the truth about his wife, however painful that truth may be. Brad Pitt’s understated performance falls flat for me and hence he falls short of being a memorable hero. I award Vatan 2 Heroes out of 5. And because of the paucity of mentoring, I can only muster a rating of 2 Mentors out of 5 as well.

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