Allied (2016): WWII Spy Romance and Brad Pitt’s Still Face

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in Allied

Written  by Steven Knight and directed by Oscar winning Robert Zemeckis,  Allied is a romantic spy tale set in WWII. Starring the beautiful and talented Marion Cotillard  and the somewhat still-faced Brad Pitt. The story, one of love and betrayal in England during the second “big” war, is well done and entertaining, although perhaps a bit too transparent in places. 

The main problem with Allied is Pitt’s immobile face. Whether the recently divorced male half of “Brangelina” has opted for plastic surgery to erase those signs of character, aka crow’s feet and laugh lines or gone the botox and collagen route to plump out and freeze his features is unclear.

What is certain is that there is no real physical chemistry between Pitt and his romantic lead. To her credit, Collitard evokes enough emotion to almost make up the lack of response from Pitt, but it is not enough.

To be fair, cinematic acting is on the “down-low,” in other words; the best acting is down played and low key. However, the complete lack of expression on Pitt’s face removes any nuances of romantic interest. In fact, the actor has no facial reaction to anything.

Because of this lack of reaction, it seems that perhaps Pitt has opted for botox, which freezes the face and done some plumping up with collagen. While he looks years younger, it has hurt his performance in this instance. The end result is a one-sided love affair, with Cotillard convincing the audience that as a suspected double-agent, she really has given it all up for Pitt (Wing Commander Vatan).

While the film can be seen as a variation on Mr & Mrs Smith, without the humor, or indeed, the former Mrs. Pitt,  it was entertaining enough that I never found myself looking for the old English electric sockets during the domestic scenes.

(I did, however, find myself noting that the set designers made sure that every thing was glossed, with multiple layers, including the older stair post seen in several scenes.)

There are some gaffes, such as having a party during the Blitz with all the window shades wide open and there were other black out conditions that were ignored, but overall things moved along well enough that these moments did not distract too much.

The biggest problem with Allied is the film’s male lead. Pitt could almost be sleepwalking through his role and it is this, combined with that immovable face, that lets the film and his co-star Cotillard down badly.

From the very start of the film I spent more time on wondering what was going on with Pitt’s features, and their lack of movement and previously spotted lines and creases, than the plot or the storyline. This preoccupation almost kept me from noticing the relevancy of the Casablanca storyline.

There are nice touches in the film. Pitt’s character reads a Graham Greene novel in one of the scenes, where he has to plant evidence to convict his wife, and it is a clever addition to the film. Greene was a brilliant writer who turned out a number of spy stories; each one a cracking tale, and this nod and wink was well done.

Overall, Allied is a 4 star film. Despite Pitt’s painfully obvious lack of emotion, the tale entertains. Cotillard convinces, as does Jared Harris, but the main male protagonist badly lets the side down here.

The film is available on DVD and can be streamed via the major platforms on the internet. Have a look at the trailer below:

The Walk: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit

The Walk, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit (the only man to ever walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center) is directed by Robert Zemeckis (who also penned the screenplay) and despite the grand scope of the project; IMAX, 3D, feels like an ode to Jacques Tati, as well as the French high wire artist whose feat the film features.

JLG as Philippe Petit on the wire

The Walk, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit (the only man to ever walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center) is directed by Robert Zemeckis  (who also penned the screenplay) and despite the grand scope of the project;  IMAX, 3D, feels like an ode to Jacques Tati, as well as the French high wire artist whose feat the film features. 

Literally, it seems as though Zemeckis zeroed in on the time period and chose the cinematic offerings of the French performer between the late 1950s (Mon Oncle – 1958) through to the 1970s (Trafic – 1971)  to emulate and project the 1974 epic “coup” by Petit and his band of “accomplices.”   The film’s colours could have been selected from that palette that Tati specified for his comic films.

The tone of The Walk is one of, if not comedy, then at the very least light amusement. Make no mistake, there are moments of pure comic delight. For example, when Petit meets street busker Annie (Charlotte Le Bon)  in a Parisian square and she berates him for stealing her customers.  When two “American” tourists misinterpret their “mime” interaction for a show, she speaks “country-bumpkin” English, much to the delight of Petit (Gordon-Levitt). 

She then reverts to French to tell the other street artist what she thinks  of him. Petit tells her, a couple of times, that he prefers her English.  This scene then segways into a “boy meets girl” scenario that allows for the first of Petit’s accomplices to come on board for his dream of walking between the Two Towers.

There is a lot of lightly comic moments. The Zemeckis film is taken from the 2008 documentary (Man on a Wire – Director James Marsh, written by Philippe Petit from his book To Reach the Clouds) and provides a humorous recounting of the artist’s beginnings, his obsession with the Twin Towers and his journey to walk the wire between the newly built American icons.

Zemeckis has  a long list of funny films under his belt, Romancing the Stone, a runaway hit for the director who then followed up with the mega successful Back to the Future, where he returned again and again along with many other comic efforts.  The director has a deft touch where needed and he does not disappoint with this loving tale of one man’s desire to go where no man has gone before.

Everything about the film works, the music, the fashion and the locations all feel like 1974 America.  The end result is a comically delivered project where none of the wonder and majestic scope of the feat is lost.  (In terms of locations,  there are a few locational mistakes but this is a movie and not a documentary.) Gordon-Levitt proves that he really is an American version of Sir Alec Guiness; a chameleon. While we can recognize the actor under all the makeup, which does make him resemble the real Petit rather remarkably, it is his performance that convinces and changes him into another person entirely.

Charlotte Le Bon, as Annie, is the perfect compliment to Joseph. This actress, who was one of the best things about the 2014 film The Hundred Foot Journey, has excellent on screen chemistry with Gordon-Levitt.  Possessed of what seems to be an inner amusement and a capacity to flare up with righteous anger when required, the Canadian performer is a personal favorite and always a delight to see on screen.

Ben Kingsley plays “Papa Rudy” and once again the Oscar winning actor proves that he is this generation’s Sir Laurence Olivier.  Sir Ben Kingsley was awarded the knighthood in 2001 (Sir “Larry” in 1947)  and looking at his performances, including his role as  cabbie/driving instructor Sikh in Learning to Drive also out in 2015, it is easy to see that his cameo was considered a different sort of “coup.”

Members of Petit’s team of accomplices are made up of some very talented supporting players. James Badge Dale is amusingly competent as the charismatic “jack of all trades” conman  who opens doors and is flexible to the nth the degree.

Scottish actor Steve Valentine not only sounds so much like the late actor Lee Van Cleef (if listening with eyes closed one can envision “Angel Eyes” delivering the lines) he also resembles him a great deal. If ever a biopic of this professional “bad man” in the movies is made, Valentine should play him.

(Or any unnecessary remakes of Italian Spaghetti Westerns, should definitely hire Valentine to play any of the many roles that Van Cleef took on over the years…)

Over and above performances, the palette or the ambiance of the film, Zemeckis puts the viewer right up on the high wire with Petit. From the safety of the cinema seats, or the familial settee if watched on DVD, we can sense the immense height, the wind, the heart stopping thrill…

There are still comic moments added into the film’s finale. Considering the almost bittersweet tang that remains after the final line from Petit, it is just as well. It has been 14 years since 9/11 but  the poignancy behind the “forever” line is still keenly felt.

The Walk is a brilliant film, another docudrama on offer, like Trumbo, where the audience is given a brief glimpse of someone real. In both films the acting is spectacular and spot on. Both entertain, although from different ends of the spectrum. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon and Robert Zemeckis give us a film worth watching.

5 out of 5 stars for humor, intelligence and some great breath-taking acting. See this one.