The opening sequence is as poetic in its hushed arrival as they come. A beautifully choreographed parachute landing in the deserts of the Sahara circa 1942 shows you the magnificently piliferous Brad Pitt cast away his jumping jack and proceed towards Casablanca. Director Robert Zemeckis couldn’t have given us a better welcome than this in the cinema hall. He, of the enviable oeuvre that includes a philosophical look at extra-terrestrial life (Contact), a frighteningly introspective look at survival and hope (Cast Away), an inspiring sprint towards life’s goals (Forrest Gump), a zippy time travel ride (Back to the Future), and a gripping moral tug-of-war that ensured you want to smell the pilot’s breath before putting on your seat belts (Flight).
As Zemeckis and writer Steven Knight reveal pretty soon enough, Pitt is Max Vatan, a Royal Canadian Air Force intelligence officer travelling to Casablanca, and joins his thus-far unknown and unmet partner, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). The glamorous and glabrous pair pose as husband-wife, and are in the town to assassinate the German ambassador. Allied traverses their journey hereon, that’s part-action, part-romance, part-drama, part-suspense, and all period piece. With Don Burgess at the helm of cinematographic affairs, the movie is a beautifully shot, lushly framed, steeped in yesteryear motile magic. And that’s one of the high points in this enterprise.
As the first half evolves into romance and marital bliss, you wait for things to change course. And they do in another highlight, as there’s a stunning reveal and you brace for the drama and tension to ratchet up. Which is when the plot begins to sag and you wonder if director Zemeckis got ahold of the incorrect recipe to create a romantic-thriller broth, in the process getting both flavours off-balance. Or, did he focus too much on the Casablanca genre of movie-making, where, reverse-engineering from the unforgettable climax, the premise of Allied was created, focusing more on the atmospherics and the mise en scène, and lesser on the intricacies of what could have been a complex and gripping plot?
That’s the question that’ll haunt you, more than the movie itself as you walk out of the cinema hall, wondering what exactly didn’t fall in place. For, with a stellar crew and cast such as this, you ought to have been swept away by the sheer magic of it all. Instead, you plot all the high points in the movie, trying in vain to keep the heat map on the side of unforgettable cinema. For, there are high points in Allied. The assassination scene throbs with the right amount of gun and fun power, the sound design by Jeremy Bowker a splendid piece of the action. As it is in the climactic drama, where, while Vatan tries to start the spluttering aircraft in the moody, grey, rain-filled frame, Marianne waits in the car with their baby, and the sound within the rolled up windows car cabin a superb addition to the tension and wait. Director Zemeckis also kick-starts the interactions between Max and Marrianne on a starry, moody night on a roof in Casablanca, that makes you sigh in anticipation. And there’s so much of promise of crackling passion and romance that somehow doesn’t seem to kindle into at least an amazing, if not Amazon tug-of-war. The scene that leads to the climax is also unbearably tense, as Max collects his baby from her nanny, and then confronts another character known to Marrianne. In the latter, the camera stays outside in the lashing rains with Marrianne and the baby, all of you looking at the building where Max has entered with a gun. After some time, you want to get into the building to find out what’s happening, as does she, and that’s a great moment in movie making.
And there’s Brad Pitt, who turns in a performance worthy of James Bond and Gregory Peck rolled into one. Pitt looks absolutely tops, his impeccably coiffured hair making you want to permanently dip your head in a vat of minoxidil. His act is classily constructed, understated, and yet very effective. Watch him in the big reveal scene, where he tries to laugh it off, and then in a sudden, unexpected burst of anger and pain, he stands up and kicks back the chair he’s sitting on, a whiplash of disbelief and agony. And later, as he’s confronted with the unconscionable truth, and he holds Marianne, he breaks down, yet strong in the knowledge that he’s their last chance at a future, he exudes such natural hurt and despair, you want to reach out to him. In her orbit, Marion Cotillard is a sparkler as well, hers a zugzwang-lit act, her eyes playful, teasing, loving, and yet forever enigmatic. And yet, both the lead performers are let down by a script that teeters into pedestrian land, just about catching its balance, but never finding its solid center of gravity. The usually brilliant Jared Harris is sadly side-lined in a role that has him mouth some laughable lines, and look like a stiff upper lip, parodic version of the führer.
The other, and final highlight of Allied is the score by Alan Silvestri. The composer lets flow a moody, extremely gripping, and effective background score – one that floods you with the right emotions. Using piano tinkles that segue into electronic rhythm, violins that seep the atmosphere with longing and tension, Silvestri scores yet another haunting winner. The highlights, alas, do not tally up to a grand total of cinematic experience, making Allied more a love affair in Casablahnca, and less a satisfying drag at a Bogart cigar.
Allied is rated UA (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years). There’s violence and some suggestion of sexuality. The Indian Central Board of Film Certification, has, in its prudish benevolence, removed a scene of nudity and snipped out all cuss words. This might prompt you and your family to second-guess all such words, and compare notes after the movie.
Director Robert Zemeckis Running Time 2h 4 min
Writer Steven Knight
Stars Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris
Genres Action, Drama, Romance
Watch the trailer of Allied here: