Allied film review

January 6, 2017

(This film review of “Allied” originally appeared in the Australian Jewish News on 5 January 2017.)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Steven Knight; starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Lizzy Caplan, Jared Harris and Simon McBurney

Wars are great for the movie business.  And there’s nothing like battling the Nazis to engage us even now, more than 70 years later: rarely has the world seemed so well divided into good and evil as it did then. The new film “Allied” brings one of the most powerful heroic war themes to the big screen – allied agents operating behind enemy lines.

“Allied” opens with a lone parachutist landing in the desert, with the short screen caption, “French Morocco 1942”.  The parachutist is Canadian Air Force Intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), there on a secret mission to assassinate the German ambassador in Casablanca.  He teams up with French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (French actress Marion Cotillard), as they pretend to be husband and wife, and operate in open society, he as a supposed chemical businessman from Paris. Danger arises in that Max’s reasonably fluent French (part of the film neatly uses subtitles and original languages) is hampered by his Quebecois accent, which will mark him out as an imposter to anyone actually from Paris.

At the time, Casablanca was governed by Vichy France (the Allies captured it in late 1942), and the film’s early scenes lovingly depict the architecture, culture and politics of that long-ago North African city.  At Marianne’s insistence, Max sleeps on the roof, because “that’s what men in Casablanca do” after making love with their wives.  Max and Marianne prove to be a powerful and successful team, leading Max to propose marriage.

The action of “Allied” then shifts to blitz-ravaged London, where Marianne eventually joins Max and they have a daughter, born during a massive air-raid in a hospital courtyard.  The film’s nasty plot twist – a spoiler that any viewing of the film’s trailer will tell you – involves the allegation that Marianne is a double agent.  If she is, Max must “follow the protocol” of intimate relationships and kill her, an “is she or isn’t she?” question with profound consequences that tears at the myths of wartime heroism. Thus the film’s title “Allied” operates with a double and possibly triple meaning.

The production values of “Allied” are definitely “big screen” (this is a film worth viewing in the cinema), with director Robert Zemeckis neatly blending special effects into the convincing action, working with cinematographer Don Burgess.  Although the result is not as exciting as their “Forrest Gump” collaboration, it is state-of-the-art Hollywood professionalism. Notable scenes include Marianne and Max’s mutual seduction in a car stuck in a sandstorm, and the London bombings.

In the lead roles, both Pitt and Cotillard do a fine job, with an excellent supporting cast that includes American Jewish actress Lizzy Caplan as Max’s sister, and a great set of supporting British actors including Jared Harris (son of Richard) and Simon McBurney. This is Brad Pitt’s third World War Two heroic outing: he played a tank commander in “Fury” (2014) and the head of Quentin Tarantino’s Jewish revenge squad in “Inglourious Basterds” (2009).

“Allied” consciously references its famous forebear “Casablanca”, the 1942 Oscar-winning film that starred Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, with specific references to the importance of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise”.  “Allied” maintains “Casablanca’s” themes of self-sacrifice and heroism set against the wartime effort, but turns the plot in psychological Hitchcockian ways.

*****

If you have a taste for war dramas, Mel Gibson’s ultra-violent “Hacksaw Ridge” – a multi-award winner at last month’s Australian Film Institute’s “AACTA” ceremony – is currently playing in Australian cinemas.  Also opening later this year are two true stories:  “The Zookeeper’s Wife”, how the director of the Warsaw Zoo saved more than 300 Jews from the Nazis; and “HHhH”, from the Laurent Binet novel, recounting the 1942 assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich.

“Allied” is currently screening in Australian cinemas.

allied2(above: Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in “Allied”)

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Brad Pitt and World War Z – a great hit – who wudda thought?

August 14, 2013

Today’s email brought a fascinating press release from the publicity department of Paramount Pictures Australia.  Here’s the title:  “’World War Z’ becomes Brad Pitt’s highest grossing worldwide release and his biggest domestic grossing film of all time”.

Dated yesterday (August 11, 2013) in Hollywood, CA, the release announces that,  “Brad Pitt’s ‘World War Z’ has now earned over $500 million at worldwide box office, making it the actor’s highest grossing worldwide release, surpassing the star’s ‘Troy’ which grossed $497.3 million globally”.  Of this amount, $197.4 million is in the USA (ed note: perhaps they mean North America, which includes Canada?) and $305.2 million outside of North America.  This has now outstripped Pitt’s previous best US box office – “Mr and Mrs Smith”, which has a total box office domestic gross of $186.3 million.

Who wudda thought?

There is much to “unpack” here.  First, I place “Troy” – with its confusing mix of accents – and “Mr and Mrs Smith” – with its nasty edge on domestic life, as two my LEAST favourite Brad Pitt movies.  (Okay, add “Tree of Life” to that too.)  So clearly I am in a minority.  But also remember that “Troy” was released in 2004 – nine years ago, and its approximate box office figure of $500 million – what with ticket price inflation – would be worth at least $657 million (say, 31% more) now.  (Click here for Brad Pitt’s Box Office Mojo page – all details in one place!)  Yet again, the public relations people ignore the reality of history and the facts of economics ….

And note how “World War Z” has earned a good 60% of its box office OUTSIDE of North America.

In “World War Z”, Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations public health specialist (hooray for the public health professionals) who saves the world – as a matter of speaking – from a zombie plague.  Yeah, that plague.

“World War Z”, to its credit, takes the whole premise seriously (no “winks” at the audience here).  And part of the film is set in Israel (although apparently filmed in Malta), as the Pitt character travels there because the Israelis reportedly had predicted the pandemic and took precautions in advance.  There has been much online discussion about the positive portrayal of Israel in the film.  (Yeah, watch the film and see exactly what happens at the end of the Israel section.  Positive?)  Israeli actress Daniella Kartesz has a starring role opposite Pitt, playing an Israeli soldier – not a love interest, but a brave one.

Here’s an interesting video story from “Jewish News One” about Kartesz, who is likely to have quite a career.

Don’t get me wrong; I liked “World War Z” a lot.  The opening scenes were genuinely some of the most chilling I have seen in a movie in a long time – the slow dawning of realisation that life as they know it has disappeared forever.  It’s just the misplaced box office hype that bothers me.