James Cole Clay // Film Critic
Robert Zemeckis’ ALLIED has talent on both sides of the camera, but the movie is just “fine.” It’s not bad, it’s not particularly good– it’s just fine.
Never has a film this year been so mediocre and engaging at the same time. Sure, it will remind audiences of the classic film CASABLANCA because of its romantic language and Moroccan setting, but something is missing. While this spy-thriller has some intriguing ideas, the nostalgia Zemeckis embraces becomes the film’s worst enemy.
Taking place at height of World War II, an American intelligence officer (Brad Pitt) is set to rendezvous in North Africa with French Resistance fighter (Marion Cotillard) on a treacherous mission behind Nazi-occupied lines.
Screenwriter Steven Knight (LOCKE, EASTERN PROMISES) delivers the best sequences of the film with his duplicitous dialogue. Constantly speaking in code, the two fall in love with one another as themselves, but never drop the elaborate ruse of their undercover identities. Every attention to detail is paid.
While Zemeckis’ work is a celebration of the “good ol’ days” in Hollywood, it’s truly difficult not to compare ALLIED directly to CASABLANCA. The sheer presence of the two leads capture part of Bogart and Bergman’s luster, even if at times they can feel a little stiff. This works to a degree, but knowing that the filmmaking talent assembled here is capable of much more left me feeling a little ambivalent about the film as a whole. On one hand, the romance wrapped in a war-time drama brings out the best in melodrama, and on the other, we’ve seen this all before. But by all means, if you are a student of classical films, you’re going to love ALLIED.
There’s a set-piece in ALLIED that takes place at a local house party that’s completely gripping. Cinematographer Don Burgess (FORREST GUMP) moves about the house as the characters weave in and out of the crowded landscape where military officers are snorting coke, drinking booze and all kinds of other debauched behavior that’s shocking for any decade. It’s these out-of-place moments that allow ALLIED to operate outside of its direct comparisons to CASABLANCA.
ALLIED is at times a sweeping story that handily delivers a successful tale of romance and espionage, but other times it’s a perfect film to put on while you settle in for a mid-afternoon nap.
ALLIED opens nationwide tomorrow (11/23).