Sunday, February 19, 2017

OVP: Allied (2016)

Film: Allied (2016)
Stars: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Costume Design)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Like most people, I go to the movies to escape.  While I do appreciate the grittier aspects of the cinematic culture, it's not like I don't see enough of that on occasion in the news, and sometimes I just want to see two beautiful people fall in love on the big screen.  Thus is the appeal, initially, of something like Allied, where two of the most beautiful movie stars working today (Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard) dane to interact with us mere mortals by falling in love in the sand-swept deserts of Morocco.  This has been the recipe for many a film classic in the past (Casablanca and The English Patient can decidedly prove that falling in love in an exotic, war-torn city can be exhilarating...these are my two favorite movies ever, as well, so I have a soft spot for such a plot), but unfortunately Allied never really rises above its thrilling promise.  It's a movie that lacks any sort of soul or heart, even if it looks like a movie classic.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Max (Pitt) and Marianne (Cotillard), two spies working against the Germans in World War II pretending to be married as their cover.  As happens in pretty much any movie, their initial professionalism subsides into a sexy love affair, including a particularly steamy moment about a third of the way through the movie where they have some impossibly erotic sex in a car.  They eventually escape Casablanca in a scene where Cotillard brandishes a machine gun (arguably worth the price of admission), get married and have a daughter, only to find out later that Marianne is a double agent, working for the Germans.  Because this is the movies and we can't possibly have our leading lady be completely treacherous (this isn't the actual 1940's and she isn't Barbara Stanwyck), Cotillard we find out is being blackmailed into working with the Germans, as they are threatening the life of her and her daughter.  The movie ends with Marianne being found out by Max, and killing herself to keep Max from going to jail.

All of this is pretty standard boiler-plate romance, but that's not always a bad thing if it's done correctly.  Romantic dramas are perhaps most reliant on chemistry between the leads, the way they fell for each other, and the ramifications of their love more than a revolutionary change in the plot.  If the film had been able to find the chemistry between the two leads and given us a bit of romantic daring, it would have worked.  Unfortunately, that's not the case.  While these two actors are fine on their own in the film (and are two of the best working movie stars, in my opinion), their chemistry together always feels stilted and a bit programmed; I never believe that they didn't like each other initially, and they feel so mechanical with each other even as they're falling in love.  There's some good acting happening, particularly with Pitt, when they are separated; I loved the scene where he interrogates a man to try and find out if his wife is a spy (and by proxy, whether she actually loves him), but the movie can never really sell me on the high stakes of their relationship nor that two consummate professionals in their late thirties/early forties would so easily be drawn to one another.  It doesn't work-they aren't careless enough to be believable as being smitten, particularly so quickly.

The movie therefore never rises above this lack of chemistry, and the plot is too dull to really lift it (other than the scenes of Pitt in France, which are decidedly the best parts of the picture).  The movie received one Oscar nomination, and while it's easy to see why it won a citation for Costume Design, it feels like a lazy, phone-it-in nomination.  Who couldn't make Cotillard and Pitt look exquisite in well-tailored 1940's gowns and suits?  I mean, honestly-it's the sort of nomination where you're like "I can't really argue that it's bad, but is there anything stand-out here."  I remember a lot of grey and blue, and part of me wonders if the film's insane obsession with paying homage to Casablanca even seeped into the costumes, despite the 1942 classic being in black-and-white ("the Germans wore grey, you wore blue").  Either way, it's a fine if a bit dull nomination from Oscar in that regard.

Those are my thoughts on Allied, one of several 2016 Oscar nominees I'll be profiling over the next week as we lead up to Sunday night (I'm going to get through as many nominees as I can before Oscar puts his final stamp on the pictures).  What were your thoughts on Allied?  Did it also feel to you like it was trying too hard?  Do you want to see Cotillard and Pitt give it another go?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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