Allied: a sombre but self-conscious film

Allied is a curious mix.  On one hand it is sombre reflection on nature of war, love and loyalty. On the other hand, it keeps paying homage to cinematic things past.

The film, which stars  Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, begins with Pitt’s character Max Vatan flying over the North African desert on his way to Casablanca.  The opening shots are strangely reminiscent of those from The English Patient, another film about a doomed wartime love affair with Ralph Fiennes as Count László Almásy and Kristin Scott Thomas as Katharine Clifton.

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Max is being parachuted into North Africa  where he will meet a French Resistance fighter named Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) in Casablanca. Their task is to assassinate a high-ranking Nazi official. It goes well and the opening action scenes are typical of the way  director Robert Zebecks handles the dramatic tension that runs through the film.

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You can’t set a wartime romance in Casablanca without drawing inevitable parallels and comparisons.

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Super-glamourous stars, sexual tensions, divided loyalties, Nazis, intrigue and a plot, which effectively ends at an airfield, are all present in both films. However Allied is no Casablanca.  Somehow, we don’t get as involved in the relationship between Max and Marianne as we do that between Rick and Ilsa.

And then there’s the inevitable comparison between Allied and Mr and Mrs Smith. Both films contain gun wielding spies and Brad Pitt. There is also a case of concealed identity in both films.

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Photo credit Eonline

And all this raises the question: What’s the point? And the answer would appear to be: Not much. Is it simply a case of Brad having a shot at Angelina and saying, “Look, I can do without you.”?

All of this is merely a distraction from the film which is a good but not great film. On one level it is a World War II action movie with all the tension of spies and daring deeds. On another level is a sombre exploration of price that humans pay in wartime. Max and Marianne fall in love and get married against the advice and in spite of the  gloomy prognostications of all of their colleagues.

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Inevitably, Marianne’s complex but very human past catches up with her with tragic consequences.

 The film is extremely well plotted and the twist of Marianne being a Nazi spy is deftly told and adds immense emotional complexity to the relationship between Max and Marianne.

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Simon McBurney as the SOE spook who tells Max’s wife is a spy

The film ends with Max living on a ranch somewhere in Canada with his now grown-up daughter, Anna. It’s a pretty soppy ending to a film that has maintained its emotional tone throughout. It would more appropriately have ended with the final shots at the airfield.

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 Viewers will be divided over the performances of Pitt and Cotillard. Many will find the two main characters wooden and unconvincing. Certainly, they lack the passion of the two main leads to Casablanca. Others will find a masterful understatement of the tensions that exist between two people know that the cards are stacked against their relationship.

 Not a great film, but certainly a good Christmas break film.

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