[Screen It]


(2016) (Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard) (R)

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Drama: After two Allied spies fall in love and get married after initially posing as spouses for a mission, an unexpected revelation has the husband begin to question their relationship.
It's 1942 and Max Vatan (BRAD PITT) is a Canadian spy who's just parachuted into French Morocco where he's to pose as the traveling husband of Marianne Beauséjour (MARION COTILLARD), a French resistance spy who's infiltrated a circle of Germans and German supporters. Their goal is to fool the locals into believing they're a real and harmless couple all while plotting to assassinate the German ambassador there. Right before that occurs, they let their business behavior turn romantic, and upon completing the mission Max arranges for Marianne to join him in London.

There, he continues to work alongside his colleague George Kavanagh (DANIEL BETTS) for Colonel Frank Heslop (JARED HARRIS) in the British government's Special Operations Executive, and not long thereafter Max and Marianne have a baby girl. Despite the bombardment of London by German forces, things seem good for the couple until Max receives troubling information from a commanding officer. It seems that there's evidence of espionage that has him progressively being to question his relationship with Marianne. From that point on, and against orders to stand down, Max tries to learn the truth and figure out what to do if that turns out not to be what he desires.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
For any movie to be successful -- not necessarily in terms of making money at the box office or garnering awards, but definitely in regard to engaging the viewer -- it has to be believable. And that's true whether it's a straight drama or some far-fetched tale about aliens in another galaxy.

In general, it's called suspension of disbelief, and as long as the filmmakers manage to make you buy into whatever universe they've created, they've already won half the battle. The rest is then up to those in front of and behind the camera to get you interested in the story, its characters and the outcome of whatever the individual or collective goals might be.

While all parts of any given film in any given genre need to follow those rules, those revolving around romance -- particularly when it's key to the plot -- definitely need to be believable. We've all heard about onscreen romance that works despite real-world accounts of the performers disliking or even hating each other (that's why it's called acting) during the filming process.

But when the romance feels rushed or just something seems off, that can have a detrimental effect on viewers buying into the presented love and thus the film in which that appears as well. Such is the case with the characters played by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in the WWII espionage-meets-romance flick, "Allied."

And that has nothing to do with generally dismissed allegations of a fling between the two while filming (all stemming from Brad Pitt and wife Angelina Jolie announcing their split before the film was to be released). Or the fact that this makes three WWII related films for Pitt in the last seven years (following "Inglourious Basterds" and "Fury") and it's sometimes hard to erase his Lt. Aldo Raine role in that first film and his desire to kill Nazis while watching his decidedly different character here. Or that Pitt already starred in a somewhat similar film -- "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" about married spies who don't know whether to trust each other)

Instead, it's just that the sparks don't fly between the performers or characters despite what's supposed to be a sexually titillating moment over dinner (a hot scene where a sweaty Cotillard opens the front of her blouse so her "girls" can have some cooling off room) that eventually leads to a "we might die tomorrow so why not have a romp in the middle of the desert during a raging sandstorm" moment that's presumably supposed to seal the romance deal for them as well as viewers.

Unfortunately, it doesn't, or at least not as well as intended, and that comes as something of a surprise and disappointment since the film's director fashioned himself a successful track record of making the unbelievable believable. And that filmmaker would be none other than Roger Zemeckis who's made us believe cartoons and people can coexist ("Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), a simpleton could affect world history ("Forrest Gump"), and that Tom Hanks would survive being stranded alone on an island with nothing more than a volleyball as his best friend ("Cast Away").

He also got the romance simmering in an uber-believable way between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in "Romancing the Stone," so it's a mystery why his latest offering doesn't work as well it could and likely should have. Part of that could stem from the script by Steven Knight where the romance isn't given enough time to blossom on its own.

Granted, TV series have the luxury of allowing the sparks to ignite, fly and build over multiple episodes and movies have a limited amount of time to do the same. Even so, it feels more forced than natural here in order to meet plot requirements that include the big surprise revelation in the second act that then drives the rest of the flick (which also feels lackluster, especially for a film about spies, subterfuge and so on).

I'm usually not one for wanting films to be longer, but the slightly longer than two-hour runtime has the effect of truncating the romance that quickly goes from the tryst to "join me in London and we'll get hitched and have a baby." And while the brevity of all of that affects our belief in the romance, it does the same to the change of direction the plot takes and the potential for relationship tragedy that could follow.

Not to give things away, but imagine if you didn't buy into the core romance of "Romeo & Juliet." The ending wouldn't have as much impact, and that's the case here. Considering that Pitt and Cotillard are really the only major characters at play, that makes the relationship issue all the more important.

None of which means it's horrible, but "Allied" should be the sort of film that takes no prisoners in its tale of a tragic love affair. Instead, it just sort of sits there, leaving viewers wondering what might have been had we cared about the characters and the film's outcome. I didn't, and thus the flick rates as no better than a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 17, 2016/ Posted November 23, 2016

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