Director, star spoil intriguing spy movie

Images courtesy Paramount Pictures.

Robert Zemeckis and Brad Pitt each owe Steven Knight a stiff drink. He wrote a sharp, intriguing film and they ruined it.

Allied follows a pair of spies, Max Vatan (Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). Tasked with assassinating the German ambassador in Casablanca, French Morocco, the duo falls in love on the job. A couple of years later, they’re married with a child in London, but Vatan is informed that Beausejour may have been a Nazi spy all along. He is tasked with disinforming her and executing her if the charges prove true.

The level of detail and nuance in Allied is astounding. Beausejour’s cover in Casablanca is extensive, and the crash course she gives Vatan into the culture manages to be both nail-biting and enlightening.

The subtext is extremely rich throughout. The sequences of the lead couple first interacting and falling in love are compelling. As Vatan leaps wildly from protocol to investigate his wife’s allegations, he crosses more and more boundaries and eventually starts to put other soldiers at risk over what should be a routine operation. His mind seems to begin to crack under the pressure.

Seems to. It’s tough to tell for sure because of Pitt’s lazy, mail-in performance.

An enduring legend for his work with David Fincher in the early ’90s, Pitt hasn’t put a ton of effort into several of his recent performances. The last really good one was Moneyball way back in 2011. Most of the time these days, he plays roles like they’re his cologne ads after using his power as a producer to put him in an ego-stroking cameo — think 12 Years a Slave or The Big Short, both of which he produced and in both of which he played an extremely powerful man, so he could look good, with an extremely small role, so it wouldn’t cut too much into his time.

Cotillard, on the other hand, is absolutely wonderful. At the same time, she lights up the screen with her own energy and exacerbates Pitt’s lack of it.

While most movies are made or broken before acting can really be taken into account, Allied hinges on its leads. This movie is about acting. It’s about layers of deception. The characters are lying to and testing each other during their courtship, and once Beausejour comes under suspicion, every move they make is two layers deep once more. Viewers are directed to examine every word, every subtle hand gesture as an indicator of what’s really going through a character’s head. Pitt, in particular, must play care-free to his wife and existentially panicked to the audience at the same time. If anyone is capable of pulling that off, it’s Pitt — if he could have been bothered.

Pitt’s weak performance is backed up by Zemeckis’ own from the director’s chair. There’s definitely an attempt to make the framing and blocking interesting and he works the mirror shots like they’re going out of style, and it’s worth further study to see completely what he was going for, but this movie needs and deserves more. There’s so much opportunity to mix this story up and make it shine. A broken timeline, opening with the accusations against Beausejour and cutting between Vatan falling in love with her and trying to prove her innocence, would have been spectacular. They also could have gone with more intimate sex scenes that actually illustrate how the relationship evolves.

There are a couple of sex scenes in the movie, but they just sort of happen. Beausejour remarks that it was different after Vatan began to suspect her, but that’s the only way the audience would ever know because everyone is so stone-faced and the visual storytelling doesn’t do much other than point out where all the mirrors are. The same can be said, essentially, for the rest of the movie.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, intern at the Lewisville Texan Journal and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to

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