Does Brad Pitt have some kind of obsession with World War II? I mean, he’s gone from Nazi-scalping hillbilly to grizzled tank commander and now he’s a suave Canadian intelligence officer.
I’m not complaining or anything, just recognizing a pattern; the dude likes killing Nazis and business is apparently booming.
So where does Pitt’s new WWII movie “Allied” (released Nov. 23) fall in relation to “Inglourious Basterds” and “Fury”? I’d say smack dab in the middle.
No one can top the oxymoronic “controlled mayhem” of Quentin Tarantino, but director Robert Zemeckis delivers a quality old school drama that, like many of his most iconic projects, takes a fascinating and sometimes powerful look at yesteryear.
In many ways, “Allied” feels like a spiritual sequel to “Casablanca.” It’s as if Rick had gotten on that plane with Ilsa after all.
Before you burn me at the stake for making heretical statements about an untouchable cinematic classic, hear me out.
The movie opens in 1942 with British-Canadian agent Max Vatan (a mostly stoic Pitt who can emote when the time really calls for it) dropping into French Morocco with the objective of assassinating a German diplomat in — you guessed it — Casablanca.
He is paired with highly capable French Resistance operative Marianne Beausejour, played by the ever enigmatic beauty Marion Cotillard (“Inception,” “Midnight in Paris”).
During the Moroccan scenes, there are some possibly intentional nods to “Basterds” and “La Vie en Rose,” two seminal achievements in the filmographies of our two main stars that are both set during similar time periods.
Aside from these fun little easter eggs, however, the beginning of the film can be a slow at times as Vatan and Beausejour plan out their mission and develop some romantic chemistry as a fake husband-and-wife team. Still, the moments when the whole charade is on the precipice of unraveling are truly spectacular.
The real good stuff (and crux) comes when we cut to a year later and the two are now married and living in London with a newborn daughter.
Max, now working behind a desk instead of enemy lines, is told by the espionage-sabotage-reconnaissance branch of the British government for Occupied Europe — the Special Operations Executive — that his wife and mother of his child might be actually be a German spy.
To go any further on details would be to ruin the nail-biting fun of “Allied” that keeps you on the edge of your seat as Max sets out to prove Marianne’s innocence.
Zemeckis treats us to an almost Hitchcockian thriller filled with dark twists and turns that will leave you with some serious trust issues.
Just when you think you have a handle on things, Steven Knight’s (“Locke”) labyrinthine screenplay takes you back to square one. It’s like the movie equivalent of “do not pass go, do not collect $200” with the scope and romance of Golden Age Hollywood tropes.
Ok, so is there more to “Allied” than just a serpentine mystery? Absolutely! The director takes every chance to immerse the viewer in this world at war with as much detail put into the production values as possible.
For instance, the sequences depicting the air raids over London by Luftwaffe planes, also known as The Blitz, is breathtaking.
In addition, a talented (albeit grossly underused) supporting cast of Jared Harris (“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”), Matthew Goode (“The Imitation Game”), Lizzy Caplan (“Masters of Sex”) and Simon McBurney (“Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”) helps bring a unique array of personality and color to the overall film that might not have been there had more unknowns been hired.
The story’s ending is a little lackluster, but doesn’t skimp on the heart-crushing drama that brought to mind the emotional heaviness of another Brad Pitt climax in “Seven,” minus the whole Gwyneth-Paltrow’s-head-in-a-box thing.
All in all, this is a movie with the right cast and crew that gets the most out of its characters and scenery. Is it destined to become a classic or just a carbon copy of the real thing?
Yes, the film does borrow a lot from the greats, but there’s enough ingenuity here to make it a solid war-based spy flick and unconventional love story that can hold its own against the heavy hitters.
If you’re sick of the superheroes and wizards clogging the market these days, try going for this simpler, purer form of escapism. Out of all the blockbusters in all the theaters in all the world, “Allied” is the Ilsa to our Rick, an old flame from out of the past, here to break us out of our jaded and cynical reverie.