Robert Zemeckis's ALLIED
Updated through 12/3.
The first round of reviews is rolling in, and so far, Robert Zemeckis's latest is splitting critics right down the middle. First up, Variety's Owen Gleiberman: "Allied, starring Brad Pitt as a Canadian intelligence officer and Marion Cotillard as a French Resistance fighter who team up for a mission during World War II (and, of course, fall in love), is a high-style romantic espionage thriller that feels like it could have been made in the ’40s (at least, if Ingrid Bergman had been allowed to say the word 'f—'). It’s a movie full of Nazis and chandeliers and prop planes and hidden passion. That may strike some viewers as a slightly stodgy turnoff—a fetishization of the past—but Zemeckis, working from a script by Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, the amusing and underrated Burnt), is alive to what’s great about old movies: the supple, nearly invisible craft that allows scenes to throb with emotional suspense. Allied isn’t based on a true story; it’s a flagrantly movie-ish concoction. But like Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, it’s been made with a so-old-it’s-new classicism that is executed with enough flair to lure audiences in."
But for Robert Abele at TheWrap, "a fine mist of silver-screen memories is unfortunately all that Allied can really muster, its general sumptuousness too often stymied by the feeling that you’ve seen this before, and better. Though it’s always apparent how much craft and care went into recreating the old-world glamour of the 1940s, even if the visual effects work is more noticeable/admirable than hidden, Allied is ultimately a thin love story, with creaky suspense machinery and star turns from Pitt and Cotillard that feel more like matinee idol dress-up than a meeting of the magnetic."
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw agrees. Pitt and Cotillard "seem to interact like thesp robots from Westworld with some kind of Google Translate chip implanted in their heads. Director Robert Zemeckis is usually known for his zestiness and zippiness; but this is arduous."
But the Telegraph's Robbie Collin finds that "the Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? director’s trademark visual-effects magic… works on both his stars and their surroundings here to ravishing effect…. When I interviewed Zemeckis last year before the release of his previous film, The Walk, he spoke of his desire to bring visual effects to the point at which questioning what in a film is and isn’t 'real' becomes not only impossible but beside the point. Allied represents the closest he’d yet come to sustaining that for an entire feature—and in some sequences, it’s realized in full, with seamless artistry and swagger."
"Plodding and pedestrian even in the technical magic that is a Zemeckis trademark, this is a case of a director out of his element with a script that fails to generate much heat," counters David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter.
"Allied is a film that can be divided into thirds," suggests Screen's Tim Grierson. "In the first section, Max and Marianne go undercover in Casablanca, the sexual tension between these spies undeniable. The movie then segues from taut action-thriller to a portrait of wartime domesticity as the newlyweds adjust to their life in London. And then in the final third, Max lays a trap for Marianne to see if she is, indeed, working for the Nazis, while at the same time doing some investigating of his own." And "it’s a shame that the film’s finale, in which Marianne’s past is finally explained, is so anticlimactic, going out on minor-chord melancholy that doesn’t entirely feel earned."
"Does Zemeckis begin the movie with an egregiously fake CGI parachute jump?" asks Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. "Yep, and it instantly undercuts the reality of everything that follows…. It’s like trying to watch Hitchcock’s Notorious except that someone has malevolently spliced scenes from Pearl Harbor placed intermittently throughout."
Updates, 11/24: Zemeckis "is a filmmaker whose body of work comprises a rich and significant contradiction between old and new," writes Adam Nayman at the Ringer. "Starting with the modest Beatles pastiche I Wanna Hold Your Hand—a 1978 production that tries to recapture the British Invasion excitement of 1964—Zemeckis has always seemed most comfortable looking back in time, albeit through increasingly state-of-the-art visual prisms: he is, uniquely, a nostalgist and a technocrat."
"Allied, while neither haute cuisine or haute couture, is like an expertly tailored suit or a properly cooked classic dish," writes the New York Times' A.O. Scott. "It’s not so much a work of art as a triumph of craft, and therefore a reminder of the deep pleasures of old-fashioned technique and long experience."
"Allied wears its conventionality on its sleeve, and proudly so," agrees Bilge Ebiri in the Voice. "It’s also—dare I say it—moving. Zemeckis directs with quiet, deliberate precision, but that makes the occasional burst of wild emotion more effective."
"Zemeckis has fashioned an unfashionable throwback, and if Allied doesn’t land the gut-punch it winds up to deliver, there’s nevertheless plenty to admire in a blockbuster craftsman and two beautiful stars paying tribute to the spirit of an older Hollywood," writes A.A. Dowd at the AV Club.
"Pitt sells you easily enough on the character’s killer instincts," writes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times, "and his square-jawed intensity suits a man whose determination to vindicate the woman he loves is tinged with both desperation and anger. But as fine as the actor looks in a gray mackintosh or a three-piece suit, there’s a matinee-idol stiffness to his performance that keeps full immersion at bay; somehow, a crucial dimension of emotional verisimilitude is missing. Cotillard, a more chameleonic presence as well as a seasoned femme fatale (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Macbeth), fares rather better, to the point where she almost seems to undermine the movie’s choice of perspective."
"These settings are clearly false, highly movie-fied worlds," writes Time's Stephanie Zacharek. "Nothing in real life looks like this. Not even old movies, created on soundstages and sets, looked like this…. Zemeckis uses technology to elicit the feeling we get when we watch old favorites. It’s almost like Smell-o-Vision, but with intensified visuals instead of aromatics. Even within this highly synthetic world, Pitt and Cotillard give sturdy, coded performances that feel naturalistic, not phony: They understand clearly that their chief mission is to tap the tradition of melodrama, and they take it seriously. Somehow, almost incomprehensibly, it all works."
More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 2.5/), Tom Huddleston (Time Out, 3/5), David Jenkins (Little White Lies), Peter Martin (ScreenAnarchy), Conor O'Donnell (Film Stage, B+), Jacob Oller (Paste), Peter Sobczynski (RogerEbert.com, 4/4) and Keith Uhlich (Brooklyn Magazine).
Update, 11/25: "Allied looks just as fakey as a 40s movie, but fakey in a different, more modern way," writes Sean Burns. "There’s a reason it contains so many references to Casablanca—the techno-pioneer is deliberately making a case for his kind of digital filmmaking as part of the classic Hollywood tradition. Sometimes he even convinced me."
Updates, 12/3: For Richard Brody, Allied "generates simple and straightforward emotional power that’s fuelled mainly by its highly concentrated fumes of nostalgia." Zemeckis is "retroactively investing the modern world with the spirit of unquestioned and selfless struggle, ripping the floorboards off the ostensibly peaceful daily life of today’s Canada and Great Britain (and, by implication, the United States of Hollywood) to reveal its foundation in the grim and dangerous efforts undertaken, unquestioningly and unflinchingly, in the Second World War. Zemeckis elevates the wartime effort to a sort of secular scripture, a founding myth of good and evil, of superhuman accomplishment and endurance, that voids the film of content while endowing it with meaning."
On the other hand, Anthony Lane, also in the New Yorker: "What we are left with, in Allied, is an overwhelming sense of the secondhand…. My fear, in short, is that Zemeckis may have stumbled into a patch of cinema so well trodden that it has simply gone to seed. As time goes by, will all the love stories in all the world run dry?"