Yet Another Film Damaged by a Tell-All Trailer: Robert Zemeckis’s Lukewarm “Allied”

Sometime in the near future, someone is going to stumble upon Allied in a Redbox or on a premium cable channel, have no idea what it is about, and end up liking the movie just fine.  Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard turn in reasonable performances, there is a surprising amount of detail to the plotting, and the ending is reasonable (if a little slap-dash; endings are hard).  Unfortunately, this movie is absolutely ruined by its trailer.  Of course, explaining why means delving into some pretty serious spoilers myself, which will also ruin the movie, but Allied isn’t so great to begin with, so it is no real crime there.  In fact, I can think of at least two spy movies starring Brad Pitt that are better than Allied (Spy Game and Inglourious Basterds; and yes it is).

The plot is simple enough:  during World War II, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) meets Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in Casablanca.  They are both spies, and their mission is to assassinate a German ambassador.  The plot goes well, and the two fall in love during the mission.  Max is able to bring Marianne back to London with him, where the two marry, have a baby, and continue with the war effort.

Of course, if you’ve seen a trailer for this movie, or even had it described to you, you know what is coming next:  Marianne might be a German spy.  I’ll admit, upon hearing this premise, I was quite interested in the film.  There could be some interesting tradecraft, tricky operations, the whole nine.  What I didn’t know and discovered as soon as the pacing of the film became apparent was this:  that plot twist occurs a full hour into the movie.

Knowing that this “twist” was coming absolutely undercuts the drama and tension of the first hour or so of the film, which is all of the first act and a portion of the second.  So, when we meet Marianne and are moved by her charm and astonished by her prowess as a spy, we don’t experience the Max falling in love with her in the same way – we’re far too guarded because we know she might be a double-agent.  Obviously, we also know that they will survive the assassination plot, and both make it to London.  Both “uncertainties” are played for tension, and it just isn’t there.  The result is an ineffective introduction to the characters, a poor opening to the film, and a lot of sitting around wondering when “that scene” is going to happen.

Then, when it does, there are some issues with the execution.  What I hoped was going to be a nice circuitous and subterfuge-laden spy-battle was nothing more than a basic blue dye operation.  Basically, Max was to allow Marianne to see some false information, and then when she transmitted it to her handler, the British would know that only she could have sent it.  Max is told to wait until this test is complete, and not to muck around himself, which of course he does.  The impatience is understandable, as is the desire to protect and absolve his wife and the mother of his child.  But when it results in endangering Max’s life, direct disobedience of superiors, and the deaths of other soldiers, one starts to wonder why he couldn’t just cool his jets for two days.

Because, yeah, Marianne is a German spy.

The actual reveal is easily one of the best elements of this film.  Once you understand that most of the tension will result from this question, it is pretty hard to guess whether Marianne is a double-agent or not.  For his part, Pitt does a great job at portraying Max’s anguish, as he still cares immensely for Marianne.  Cotillard is likewise strong as always, there’s just precious little of interest in the plot for her to work with.  There are too many other needless distractions that take away what could have been an  interesting little story.  The conclusion to the story is pretty rushed and haphazard, and too many revelations come out of left field and blind-side the audience thanks to having poor set-up.

It is wrong to completely dismiss Allied, but there is clearly some quality movie-making at work here.  The lead actors both do fine, but neither is outstanding.  Most of the supporting cast is also quite capable and lends quality to the film.  There are even some fantastic sequences, most notable of which is the birth of Max and Marianne’s daughter amid a nighttime raid by German bombers.  These successes are just mired in too much poor execution elsewhere and the inescapable spoiler that is almost inherent any description of the plot of Allied.

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