Friday, December 02, 2016


ALLIED (Robert Zemeckis, 2016)

Canadian operative Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beauséjour (Marian Cotillard), a member of the French Resistance, pose as husband and wife in 1942 French Morocco for a mission to assassinate a German ambassador in ALLIED. Marianne has been busy befriending the Germans in Casablanca prior to Max’s arrival. The partners are previously unacquainted and know the danger of becoming close, but the intensity of their assignment and playing of their roles in a convincing manner leads to their relationship developing into something more personal than noble work for the cause.

Max and Marianne succeed at their bold task and survive, but rather than going their own ways, they decide to get married. Back in England Max gets approval for Marianne to join him there. Although World War II still wages on, they settle into a life together with a baby girl. Marianne trades intelligence work for being a wife and mother while Max continues to play a key role in the fight from London. After a year or so Max is called in thinking he’s going to be offered a promotion but instead is told that Marianne is suspected of being a German spy. He refuses to believe the accusation but grudgingly goes along with the operation to test her loyalty. Although he’s warned not to look into the question further, he desperately searches for answers that will ease his dismay.

The uncertainty of knowing who to trust and what to believe stand out as occupational hazards for secret agents. The design of ALLIED brings that to attention with sets and digital backgrounds that are convincing enough to seem like real settings and yet are also noticeable as constructed reality on a studio lot. This is not a matter of the special effects work not being up to par but a deliberate choice by director Robert Zemeckis to emphasize the thematic tension. The more deeply involved the viewer gets with the story, the more the illusion, or movie magic, takes hold that we can trust what is seen. Likewise, Max has greater difficulty separating what is authentic and what could be deception between him and Marianne as his commitment to believing in her innocence becomes more fervent.

Considering the filmmaker, this is an interesting twist in how he uses special effects. With films like THE WALK, FORREST GUMP, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, and the trio of computer-animated features in this century’s first decade, Zemeckis has strived to make the trickery invisible, to make the fake seem realistic. ALLIED doesn’t disguise the technical wizardry involved but instead leaves room for the viewers’ brains to blur the separation between practical sets and environments that exist as ones and zeroes on a computer hard drive. In this regard, belief creates reality despite what may be visible to challenge it.

Steven Knight’s screenplay also uses the scenario to explore marriage and the truths two people invest in a relationship to keep it strong. Without the suggestion of Marianne’s activities, she and Max could likely go on living happily ever after, but the doubt introduced gnaws at him despite what he thinks he knows. It calls Max to dispute everything between them even as he desperately wants to trust her. Still, how much can anyone really know another person? As a wartime and psychological thriller, ALLIED finds that most vulnerable point and examines the fallout when it is exposed.

Grade: B

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