Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2016 2:45 pm 
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War weary

Casablanca, London in the blitz, prop plane missions to France - some of it's awfully familiar World War II movie stuff. But Steven Knight (author of Cronenberg's Eastern Promises), who wrote the screenplay, is a clever fellow, and so is Robert Zemeckis. Allied is a glossy confection, finely crafted and rich in romance, danger and doubt. But there is only one reason for watching it, and that's for the stars, Brad and Marion. She's 41, he's 52, but they sure don't look it. With them we get to revisit so many tragic Forties screen romances, from Brief Encounter to Casablanca. These things don't end well, but they sure can fill a handkerchief.

Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) looks worried and tense through most of this movie, for reasons we soon find out. But there's good news: his French flows trippingly off the tongue. The French is explained because he's a Canadian. Marianne Beauséjour (Marian) calls him "my québecois." When he meets her in Casablanca and they converse in French, she sees his accent will get by North Africans, but she'll have to steer him quickly away from Parisians, which he's supposed to be and doesn't sound like. In this early stage he himself dodges, and dramatically cuts short, a Vichy German he was once interrogated by who turns up just behind them at a sidewalk café. At least he thinks so. "How sure are you?" Marianne asks in French. "Soixante pour cent" (60%), he answers. He turns out to be 100% right. Life is a minefield, and Max must be wary of the wiles of Marianne herself, who seems attracted to him at once. But how can anybody do that? Of course they fall, a little, and then later on when they meet up in London, a lot.

Marianne has come to Casablanca on orders to play Max's wife. They're both spies, he for the RAF, she for Les maquisards, the French resistance. There are seeds of danger and suspicion from the start. And after they've shacked up together in Hampstead, London, and had a child born during a bomb raid, he's told by his chiefs (I'm not giving anything away: it's in the trailer) that she's a spy and he must kill her or he'll be killed with her. Well, war is hell, but that's a bit much.

Like A.O. Scott of the Times I was reminded of Spielberg's recent Bridge of Spies, but can't quite agree with him that the present movie, like Spielberg's true story, "infuses a venerable genre and a familiar period with new interest." Or I can, but the similarity is misleading. Bridge of Spies is a richer, more authentically suspenseful tale. Where I can go along with Scott is in seeing Allied as an offhand triumph of professionalism, which turns over-rich and saccharine in its last tragic airstrip moments.

The real highlight, a bit earlier, is not the shootout on the French village street outside the police station when a collabo reports some maquisards to a Nazi tank squad. That feels terribly familiar. But I enjoyed being reminded of Anthony Powell by the wild Hampstead blitz party given by Max and Marianne that's almost torn apart by a falling German plane. And when the CGI reproduces how the night sky of London may actually have looked full of German planes and exchanges of fire, that was something we haven't seen before that was quite thrilling.

I don't agree with Scott that Brad seems totally wooden. I call that restraint. He's playing Max as brave, complicated, and enormously pressured, and if he seems to be quietly imploding that's only natural. The problem is more with Cotillard. She's a wonderfully sympathetic actress but she needs truly original material to be at her best. She must be steered clear of anything saccharine. Her diction in English in principle is immaculate but still makes some dialogue hard to catch. We don't need dialogue, fortunately, during the couple's first passionate lovemaking scene, in a car, in a full-on roaring desert sandstorm. Bingo!

Again referring to Scott, he's right that this doesn't feel like a Forties movie even if it works the same ground, because the language is too raw (plenty of "fuckings", though only when truly needed) and the politics too blurry (it's essential to the tale that the lines are not clearly drawn, even if there are deadly enemies killing each other).

This comes close to being a great movie. But for all its mix of danger, romance, and violence, wonderful clothes and well realized period sets - streets in Casablanca, Hampstead picnicking near the crashed German plane - and depth of quality in the supporting cast, even "a marvel of" bipartite "structure," Alied still winds up being primarily a star-packaged costume contrivance. It's polish without flair - top drawer only at second rank.

Allied, 124 mins., opened all over the world in Nov. 2016, 23 Nov. in the USA and France, 25 Nov. in the UK.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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