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Allied

Year: 2016
Studio: Paramount
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Steven Knight
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cottilard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Simon McBurney, August Diehl, Matthew Goode

Poor Bob Zemeckis. During the 80s and into the 90s he was unassailable. Some time around Beowulf audiences seemingly got tired of him, and the incredible goodwill from Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit had started to evaporate.

Despite Flight (which could have been called 'slight'), most of his recent output including The Walk and Welcome to Marwen has fallen with loud thuds, and this film was no different, with most of the critical consensus considering it competent but not very inspiring.

The funny thing is Zemeckis is as good a filmmaker (in the technical sense, by which I mean both the crafts and the technology) with the material he chooses as he's always been. It's just that nobody's seemed very impressed with the material he's chosen lately.

Allied is a pretty good example. It's the kind of movie Hollywood would have made in the 1940s, a gilded, romantic wartime drama thriller with a golden sheen, ridiculously photogenic movie stars and a plot with a mystery at the centre. It's all undeniably beautiful and constructed, even the ugliness of war draped in a natty suit or a sumptuous ballgown and gripping a bejewelled cigarette holder.

Brad Pitt is Max, a Canadian spy sent to Casablanca (the very existence of the iconic North African city evokes memories of the kind of movie this seems to want to be, at least in the beginning) where his mission is to connect with a French resistance fighter and pose as her husband while they carry out their plan to assassinate a local Nazi leader.

But the sensuous and beautiful Marianne (Marion Cotillard) plays the role of dutiful, loving wife with unalloyed enthusiasm, showering Max with romantic affection. It doesn't help that their mission is so high risk it's obvious they might not both make it out of Casablanca alive, so the pair soon give in to their attraction and fall in love for real. Somehow they carry the assassination out with icy efficiency and make good their escape back to Max's headquarters in London.

Back to normality, Max asks Marianne to stay and become his wife. They have a registry office wedding, a baby girl (born during a London air raid – to give you an idea how cinematically Zemeckis thinks) and Max returns to work at his secondment to British Intelligence.

A year later, his superiors (in the form of his commander Jared Harris and the eternally chilly and Crippen-like Simon McBurney as an MI6 handler) tell Max Marianne is actually suspected of being a Nazi spy, that she took the place of the real Marianne after the latter was killed during an operation in France, and that the target in Casablanca was actually a dissident Hitler wanted dead.

Max is having none of it, but he has no choice but to agree to a sting to try and catch her out, leaving a note containing false intelligence lying around their Hampstead house so British codebreakers looking for transmissions to intercept can see if she sends it to her own command.

While his belief in the honesty of the woman he loves so much becomes riddled with doubt, Max goes on a one man mission to try and confirm Marianne is who she claims to be, flying back behind enemy lines in France to track down members of her former band who can confirm her identity before his whole world unravels.

It's all plot underneath and gilt-edged artifice on top, no real subtext or deeper theme, a perfect Golden Age time capsule throwback that's gorgeously set, dressed and lit, but released at a time where nobody seemed to be in the mood for it.

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