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”)


Boxing Day 26 December 2016 Jewish film releases

December 22, 2016

(This article appeared in different form in the Australian Jewish News on 22 December 2016.)

As Australia’s biggest cinema-going day of the year, Boxing Day (26 December) marks the unofficial beginning of both the summer holidays and entertainment season.  Here’s our pick of the Boxing Day films with Jewish personalities and themes to look out for.

Allied is made for fans of romantic war dramas (and seriously, who isn’t one).  “Allied” stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as secret agents – Canadian intelligence officer Max and French resistance fighter Marianne – who fall in love during a North African mission.  Set in Casablanca and London, “Allied” (the title operates with a double and possibly triple meaning) is directed by Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”) with energy and verve, tearing at many of the myths we have wanted to believe about wartime heroism.  The film’s big plot twist – a spoiler that any viewing of the film’s trailer tells you – involves the strong suspicion that Marianne is a double agent, placing Max in the distrusting “is she or isn’t she?” role, and forcing him to find the truth in the sort of ways you don’t want to treat the love of your life.

A.O. Scott of the New York Times writes that this film operates, “like [the film] ‘Casablanca’ in reverse. It’s about how the problems in this crazy world don’t amount to a hill of beans next to the troubles of two people in love.” Aside from the Casablanca setting, “Allied” includes prominent singing of “La Marseillaise” and other explicit references to the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman romance, but without references to Nazi persecution of Jews, just the personal challenges of the heroic couple. “Allied” comes across more like an Alfred Hitchcock film than one by Michael Curtiz (the Jewish director of “Casablanca”).  American Jewish actress Lizzy Caplan co-stars as Brad Pitt’s sister.

Rosalie Blum was the best-attended film in the 27-year history of Australia’s Alliance Française French Film Festival.  This delightful comedy features a central Jewish character (the titled Rosalie Blum), played in turn by Jewish actress Noémie Lvovsky, who is the accomplished writer/director and star of “Camille Unwinds”.  This first film by director Julien Rappeneau draws from a series of popular French graphic novels by Camille Jourdy.  The film’s warm comic exterior at first shields important messages about our need for connection in a disconnected world.  There is something so very “French” about this film, which sits as highly accessible “middle brow” entertainment.  Lvovsky’s co-stars include Iranian-French actor Kyan Khojandi and Alice Isaaz.  A crowd-pleaser for all French film addicts.

Why Him is likely to be one of the summer’s most Jewish releases, although has almost no Jewish characters or content. The creative team behind this broad comedy about an unsuitable boyfriend is a “who’s who” of contemporary Jewish comedy:  Jewish director John Hamburg has written all three “Meet the Parents” and both “Zoolander” films.  Jewish co-writer Jonah Hill has more Jewish comedy connections than almost anyone alive, and got his break on “I Heart Huckabees” through friendships with Dustin Hoffman’s children.  Producers Ben Stiller (need we say any more) and Shawn Levy – director of all three “Night at the Museum” films – are the Jewish “power couple” of contemporary broad US film comedy. Jewish actors also abound:  James Franco, 16 year old Griffin Gluck and Zack Pearlman.  Bryan Cranston, last seen playing the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, also co-stars.

And watch out for two other Boxing Day releases:

Janis: Little Girl Blue is an American documentary about the singer-songwriter Janis Joplin, by Jewish director Amy J Berg.  Berg specialises in “tough” subjects like sex abuse, pedophilia, and the African-American male “crisis”.

Red Dog True Blue: Five years ago, the film “Red Dog” became the eighth (now tenth) most popular Australian film ever.  The follow up “Red Dog True Blue” is a “prequel” and hopes to replicate the original’s success.  Daniel Taplitz returns as the screenwriter, with a cast headed by Bryan Brown.  This most Australian of “Oz” films also stars British-Jewish actor Jason Isaacs, who comes from a Zionist family (his parents live in Israel) and who describes Jewishness as his “core”.


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