2016, R, 124 min. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Simon McBurney, Matthew Goode, Anton Lesser, Marion Bailey, August Diehl, Thierry Frémont.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Wed., Nov. 23, 2016

Bombs away! The World War II espionage romance Allied is a big movie: big actors, big emotions, big gestures, big explosions, and a big ol' mess. Hearkening to an era of old-school Hollywood filmmaking gone with the wind, it’s a by-the-numbers prestige picture that strives mightily to capture the magic of a Forties Warner Bros. melodrama like Casablanca, a film it obsessively references like a kid emulating an idol in the hopes of becoming the ideal. In direct homage to the classic film, the first section of the movie takes place in the dusty Moroccan city circa 1942, after the Nazis have installed the pro-German Vichy government in the French protectorate. (At any moment, you half-expect Sydney Greenstreet to appear wearing a fez.) In this long introductory segment, the film’s Bogey and Bergman stand-ins, Allied undercover agents Max Vatan (Pitt) and Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard), pose as husband and wife to execute a bold mission that ultimately brings them together as actual spouses. Other overt references to the Oscar-winning 1942 film include an integral memory about a female French Resistance fighter who plays “Le Marseillaise” on the piano in defiance of a group of enemy soldiers, as well as a throwaway line in the finale that echoes Captain Renault’s red herring order to round up the usual suspects. You could endorse this retro larceny if the movie halfway dignified its revered inspiration, but Allied is so full of itself it forgets to entertain most of the time. Here’s to not looking at you, kid.

Viewing everything on a grand scale, director Zemeckis proves to be all wrong for this movie. At heart, the narrative is an intimate one with Hitchcockian overtones – is the woman our protagonist loves, the mother of his child, actually a German counter-spy? – but he blows it up (both literally and figuratively) to magnify every imperfection in Steven Knight’s undisciplined script, in which the germ of a compelling story exists but is lost. When things should get more emotionally focused in the third act, as Vatan desperately attempts to prove his wife’s innocence, the film momentarily jumps the channel to become an action movie in occupied France of all things. And what’s with the lip-locked lesbians and open cocaine use at the bohemian party hosted by the fractured couple in their suburban London home, with British army intelligence personnel present, as the Blitzkrieg rages in the night sky above? (Sign me up!) While the always interesting Cotillard evokes a modicum of movie-star glamour as the film’s woman of mystery, the stony-faced Pitt looks miserable from the start. The heads on Mount Rushmore have more range of expression than he does here. This may be the most depressing performance he’s ever given in a film. Annus horribilis, indeed.

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Allied, Robert Zemeckis, Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Simon McBurney, Matthew Goode, Anton Lesser, Marion Bailey, August Diehl, Thierry Frémont

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