“A great experience”

by Steve Pulaski

We are entering a strange paradox when it comes to the two most recent Brad Pitt films, the first being last year’s Angelina Jolie-Pitt-directed By the Sea and the second, of course, being this year’s Allied.

In By the Sea, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie played a bickering couple on vacation, who found solace in spying on the younger, more expressive couple next door via a tiny peephole. This was their momentary relief from almost constant arguing. During this time, tabloids and online-gossip sites, for what they’re worth, rumored the couple had a looming divorce.

In Allied, Pitt and Marion Cotillard play a couple in World War II-era Casablanca, where she might not be who she claims to be. Just last month, news outlets couldn’t stop covering the news that Pitt and Jolie’s lengthy, much-publicized marriage might be coming to an end after Pitt’s rumored affair with Cotillard.

Let’s just say, I’m hoping we get a third film to complete this “Brad Pitt, art-imitates-reality trilogy.”

Directed by
Robert Zemeckis
Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris
Release Date
23 November 2016
Steve’s Grade: B+

Speaking with complete seriousness, now, Allied, while not as layered nor surprisingly moving as By the Sea, is a far simpler and more direct picture, more-or-less functioning as Pitt and Cotillard’s Casablanca. This is only made more evident by the film’s emphasis on craft, such as the satin dresses, the luxurious set designs, and so much more packed in that caters to the visual essence of the film. Had this been made in black and white, maybe without the presence of two recognizable faces, you could likely convince someone they were watching a film from the New Hollywood era in American cinema.

Pitt plays Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), a Canadian intelligence officer dispatched to Casablanca to take out a German ambassador, who winds up posing with a French Resistance fighter named Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in order to minimize suspicion. The two grow close over time, so much so that even after the operation is completed, the two wind up having a baby and living together in Casablanca. Yet when Max is informed that Marianne might be working as a German spy, due to private dispatches circulating via telegram, he needs to find out whether or not the love the two shared was real in the face of everything else potentially being an act.

This is a classic “who can you trust film?,” with a strong aura of romance and attraction nonetheless. The impossibly attractive pairing of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard not only make this story work on a romantic note, but both show why they’re such talented performers. This is an especially strong showcase for Cotillard, who I can’t help but feel is still overlooked despite her terrific, Oscar-nominated role in the must-see Two Days, One Night back in 2014. Here, she captures her character’s enigmatic personality, despite being rather obvious in her beliefs and feelings.

The cinematography of Don Burgess allows the real element of detail and ambience to become intermixed with the complex relationship displayed on-screen, and the fact that two famous actors are headlining this particular film, again, makes it feel as if it’s charting New Hollywood territory, as well as paying homage to the Humphrey Bogart classic that needs no introduction. Moreover, director Robert Zemeckis, coming off last year’s still-underrated film The Walk, keeps the look and feel of the film always close in hand, even when scenes start to boil and the focus is solely placed on both Max and Marianne. It’s as if the decor of each scene is to distract from the inevitable sadness that will occur in the end, regardless of which way it goes. We, as seasoned moviegoers, perhaps a bit more cynical than most, have seen it far too many times.

Watching Allied, I found myself having a similar experience as I did watching By the Sea. Initially writing it off as a desperate vanity project, I kind of chuckled to myself and rolled my eyes as I sat down to watch both movies. Both times it took me about twenty-five minutes to find myself really invested in the characters and get acclimated to everything going on, but once I did, it became a great experience.

With By the Sea, you had to color in the lines and fill out some of the larger ideas for yourself, but once you did, the entire experience became that much more rewarding. With Allied, the film operates in a more linear manner with more evident emotion, and serves as an homage more than anything else. Amidst the many tangents you can concoct and as much coloring-in as you can do for both of these films, you can also color me surprised as how much I enjoyed and got into another Brad Pitt movie.