Period film: Allied (2016)

Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), a Canadian in the RAF, is traveling to Casablanca on a mission during World War II. He’s been partnered with Marianne Beauseour (Marion Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter.

(Image via blackfilm.com)

(Image via blackfilm.com)

Posing as a married couple from Paris, Max and Marianne team up to carry out an assassination plot against a German ambassador. At first they’re all business, preparing for the assassination and questioning each other’s ability to pull it off, but they grow closer as the mission progresses.

Though the cards are stacked against them, Max and Marianne both manage to survive the gunfight that follows the assassination. Max asks Marianne to return to England with him and become his wife. A year later, they’re happily married in Hampstead and have a daughter named Anna.

But all may not be as rosy as it seems. Max is forced to question the life they’ve built after he learns that Marianne may be a German spy.

Allied was directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Flight) from an original script by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises).

The fact that a portion of Allied is set in Casablanca has led to comparisons with one of the greatest wartime romances ever, which I think is a bit unfair. Undoubtedly, classic wartime romances were an inspiration here in terms of pace, story, and tone. But when it comes to Casablanca, I see little resemblance outside of the city itself. Allied is its own film, with its own strengths… and its own problems.

I’ll start with the good. One thing that Allied has an abundance of is style. The hair, makeup, costumes, and set design are meticulously detailed and beautifully constructed. As a visual representation of the period, I saw no glaring anachronisms and found the film very beautiful.

I also found both sides of the story interesting: the assassination plot, and the later drama that occurs in England. Rather than using up all of its excitement in the first half-hour, I found Allied engaging throughout its run-time. The pace isn’t fast, but the action is well-crafted and the script easily managed to hold my attention between those higher-intensity moments.

Pitt and Cotillard are fine choices to lead the film. Pitt does seem to be phoning it in at times, not bringing as much heart as he could to his performance, but overall he’s a good fit for the role of Max. Cotillard is, of course, no stranger to the 20th century period film and I think she’s one of the best currently-working actresses that could have been found for this role. Whether playing a flapper in Midnight in Paris or a World War II assassin in this film, she has the ability to blend seamlessly into period settings. The chemistry between the two doesn’t quite reach a rolling boil but they’re believable as a very-much-in-love couple.

(Image via YouTube)

(Image via YouTube)

My problems with this film are with the script, which may seem contradictory since I did say I found the film engaging, but hear me out: the script is far too focused on Max. Marianne is a fascinating character and would have been so interesting to explore in-depth. We never really learn her motivations, other than a vague and somewhat cliché statement about threats made toward her daughter. I wanted more of her backstory, and an exploration of the drama in Hampstead from her side.

We don’t get any of that because the film focuses on the fact that Max may have to kill the woman he loves. Significant measures of emotional intrigue and suspense come from viewing the story through a Max-centric angle, but I think this comes at the expense of what could have been a much more unique wartime story: [SPOILERS] a story of a woman, used as a weapon by the Nazis, trying desperately (but not successfully) to escape their control and influence. The fact that Marianne is revealed not as villain using Max for her spy activities, but as a woman trapped in a bad situation, left me disappointed that we didn’t get to see the story through her eyes. [END SPOILERS]

Had Marianne’s backstory and journey been explored more thoroughly, Allied could have been a great film. As it exists, it’s a good film, but one that underutilizes its most important character, treating her as a simple catalyst for Max’s emotional drama. Check out Allied if you like very stylish period pieces or want to see a modern-day take on a classic-inspired wartime romance, but it probably won’t become an instant favorite.

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3 thoughts on “Period film: Allied (2016)

  1. Todd B says:

    I skipped over some plot descriptions of the review, only because this was one movie playing now that I’m going to see, but I got a general feel for what you thought of the film, and if the period atmosphere is that cool, then maybe I won’t mind the negatives so much. I like Marion, too…hopefully there’s enough of her in this to make it worth the price of my ticket!

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    • Lindsey says:

      I think you’ll enjoy it. I did enjoy it, just saw potential for an even better story/film if written from a different angle. Marion gets quite a bit of screen time, so you won’t be disappointed there!

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