What kind of movie is Allied? Watching the movie trailer, I’m tempted to call it a spy thriller. However, the movie itself is a multiplicity of genres, doubling as a war spectacle, a romantic melodrama and a mystery movie. So far, Allied has garnered a mixed response. Admirers praise the film’s overwhelming variety, while adversaries attack the film’s tonal inconsistencies.
It’s a movie that’s as conflicted as the characters that inhabit it.
Allied parachutes us into Casablanca, where Canadian spy Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) fall in love during a dangerous mission. After they succeed, the two return to London and get married. But a year later, British intelligence suspect Marianne of being a German spy, forcing Max to look for evidence to prove her innocence.
What is with this past November? Movies like Hacksaw Ridge and Arrival are tonal messes, mired with thematic contradictions. Allied is no different, as it switches between genres every 15 minutes. The very beginning plays out stylistically like a James Bond movie, as Pitt’s Max Vatan stealthily executes a Nazi officer at a local cafe.
Shortly after, the movie completely shifts gears, and we get a romance-drama featuring Max and Marianne’s married life in war-torn Britain. After an hour into the movie, Allied then morphs into an espionage thriller as Max is informed by his military superiors that his wife might be a spy.
I get the feeling that Allied was supposed to be a jack of all trades, capable of juggling drama, romance, action and humour. At best, it’s a seven of all trades, clumsily shuffling between different cinematic styles that have been done better in other movies.
Take Casablanca, for example, the quintessential WWII romance movie that inspired Allied. Casablanca is about an expatriate who must let go of his love to save his country. The love between the two leads, Bogart and Bergman, was sentimental, passionate and deeply dangerous. There’s a reason it remains a classic to this day.
Comparing the two movies, Allied’s shallow romance almost seems patronizing. That said, I’ll give Pitt and Cotillard some credit; their romance is limited by the depth of the script. All things considered, they’ve played their characters adequately.
Director Robert Zemeckis has a long list of all-around adventure movies, including Forrest Gump and Back to the Future. There is an earnestness to Zemeckis’ best that is both inspiring and entertaining, but Allied is unable to do much of either. It has neither the patriotism of Forrest Gump nor the charm of Back to the Future.
Much like opponents of Allied enjoyed last week’s Arrival, people who enjoyed Allied will likely dislike Arrival. Just look at Rex Reed, whose scathing review of Arrival was simultaneously met with a review that adorns Allied with a perfect score: “See it and revel in the kind of terrific, dramatic and completely satisfying movie they don’t make any more.”
But the way I see it, Allied is the kind of movie that could’ve only been made today. Most Hollywood movies during WWII were war propaganda that glamorized the war effort. Their goal was to inspire people to enlist in the army. Yes, even a classic like Casablanca is a form of war propaganda, albeit one that is stylish and graceful.
It’s only in the last two decades that WWII has been addressed with a wistful nostalgia. Filmmakers take the moral simplicity of the war to indulge in a maximalist re-telling of how the Nazis were defeated. As a result, the myth has been transformed. Being a soldier in WWII is no longer a civic duty, it’s a moral obligation.
Looking back at Allied, the movie is loaded with the same black-or-white morality, usually at the expense of its character motivations. In other words, characters do things that don’t make sense based on their loyalties. Even if you argue that Max and Marianne threaten their country because they love each other, you have to be willing to sell that romance.
A key component to good romance is conflict. Part of Casablanca’s charm is that Rick and Elsa begin the film by hating each other. But in Allied, Max and Marianne never fight, and their marriage is never challenged. For all we know, their love is just lip service.
Taste will ultimately decide whether or not you’ll like Allied. Some scenes truly are impressive, including one where Max and Marianne make love in a car during a sandstorm. But these scenes are stitched together without much rhyme or reason, as the movie carelessly jumps between different genres and character motives.
Allied, like the spies it portrays, is rather manipulative. I won’t blame you if you end up enamored by the excitement of it all. But upon closer inspection, I can’t help but notice its overwhelming insincerity.