There’s a certain Robert Zemeckis that I really miss seeing and it was the Robert Zemeckis that seemed he knew how to bring a good time for audiences when he made films like Back to the Future and a childhood favourite, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There was a period afterwards where he just seemed to pander to a more serious crowd and while he hasn’t churned up anything nearly as vomit-inducing as Forrest Gump it seems afterwards he just toned down and aimed for a more serious approach that carried so little joy. If it hadn’t been clearer with his 21st century work, then it comes clear once again with Allied. Zemeckis continues an ongoing streak of disappointment.
It’s not unfamiliar lately to see Brad Pitt appearing in WWII dramas (Inglourious Basterds and Fury) but together with Marion Cotillard he emulates a Humphrey Bogart-esque romantic lead akin to his pairing with Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. The two of them star as Max Vatan and Marianne Bausejour, a Royal Canadian Air Force officer and a French Resistance fighter who fall in love during the war while they are on a mission in Casablanca. Stakes are raised upon the suspicions that Marianne is a German spy and a test to their romantic relationship is felt as Max uncovers more about who Marianne really is – whereas he is still finding a great attachment to her. There’s an admirable message coming into play but it’s also left me feeling unsure whether or not Robert Zemeckis was truly the ideal director to handle this material.
Where the film finds itself working spectacularly would be within its visual department, for it was always a department that Zemeckis has flourished his own work within. Ranging from the set pieces to the costumes or the visual effects, Allied is a triumph on its technical ground. Yet knowing what more has Zemeckis managed to achieve within films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Back to the Future amongst the lot it should not be any surprising although it does not change how Zemeckis clearly has a skill for applying a great sense of visual appeal to move his stories perfectly. Even inside of his very worst films, they still carry that level of technical brilliance that still allows something about the experience provided to stand out, and in the case of Allied it enhances the atmosphere provided for the period in which the film it is set – to which I respect greatly.
For how much I do love Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt, the film never sold me in when it comes to the classical Hollywood tributes which are being put into play. Brad Pitt certainly is going out for his best Humphrey Bogart impression and it reminisces perfectly for those who have enjoyed watching films of the period but there’s a clear lack of nuance present given as Allied name drops Casablanca so frequently in its first sequences. While I’m already sure that it was never meant to come in direct reference to the film, the city’s constant mentioning was one thing that stood out to me as Zemeckis’s need to call back to a certain era for classic Hollywood for it seems to be a nod made far too blatant. While Pitt and Cotillard are indeed lovely as ever to watch together just like Bogart and Bergman were in Casablanca, the problem is that Allied‘s homage never feels subtle enough to allow a focus on their romance.
There’s yet another qualm I have with Robert Zemeckis when he enters this sort of territory that I’ve hinted at in the prior paragraph, it’s an obvious lack of nuance for the tone he wishes to set for a more dramatic piece. This sort of in-your-face nature was one of many things that always stood out when watching Forrest Gump (and was only a fraction of the reasoning to where my loathing comes from) and it feels apparent as always within Allied. This sort of frustrating blend with tone, going from suspenseful to sentimental so quickly, was perhaps the most off-putting thing to see about Allied but there’s a degree to which it feels more restrained than his usual and creates a great mood that keeps oneself watching. Sadly the sentimentality seems to bog the substance and it never jives well with my own tastes.
All I want is for the days of Robert Zemeckis to make something he knows will excite audiences to come back. With these sorts of films it’s hard enough trying to tell what sort of aim he wants to create because on one end you’ll have a great set piece bogged down by a romance that never feels nuanced in Allied. Parts of it certainly ring as admirable but on another end it’s also incredibly frustrating because it’s clear enough that Robert Zemeckis is an unfitting director when it comes to handling this sort of material given his tendency to throw within the audiences’s faces. It’s never unbearable but at the very least the two leads have enough charm to bring energy along to the ride. It seems as if Robert Zemeckis is just taking himself far too seriously at this rate, and it’s become monotonous to a certain extent, although much worse can be found from him.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay by Steven Knight
Produced by Graham King, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis
Starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 124 minutes