It’s not often that a Brad Pitt movie (or one directed by Robert Zemeckis) silently slips past the public, but Allied managed to do just that when it was released last November. Between the forgettable title, lack of hype, mixed reviews, and subpar box office numbers, it flew under my radar as well, so I fired up the Blu-ray with no plot knowledge and low expectations. Turns out this was the perfect formula for a very pleasant surprise. Allied is actually quite good.
Set during World War II, the film leans heavily on Casablanca and classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. Had those cherished classics not been decades old, yeah, you could label Allied a rip-off, but given what Hollywood churns out these days, an old-fashioned spy thriller with a dash of romance feels pretty refreshing right now.
Pitt plays a Canadian intelligence officer and Marion Cotillard (Assassin’s Creed, Public Enemies) is a French Resistance fighter. They meet under intense pressure, pretending to married while behind enemy lines in North Africa, as the clock ticks on their high-stakes Nazi takeout mission. What happens after that mission is best left to viewing, not reading, so that’s as much as I’ll say here. If you haven’t seen a trailer for Allied, your potential for enjoying it is significantly higher.
From the very first shot, it’s clear the film is in the hands of a great director. The pacing is great, the visuals are superb, and there’s plenty of polish. Steven Knight’s screenplay also deserves special recognition.
Halfway through Allied, I knew I was enjoying it, but I also knew it wasn’t going to emerge as a classic. Why? Well, there seems to be a slight lack of soul. While Cotillard is very good as Marianne Beauséjour, Pitt’s performance as Max Vatan is stoic, bordering on boring. Had the role been filled by a lesser-known actor with chops, it all might’ve felt fresher. The supporting cast is excellent.
It’s also possible the heavy-handed use of CGI contributes to the not-quite-right feeling. With a resume that includes Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and The Polar Express, Zemeckis is on the Mount Rushmore for visual effects integration. Still, I was surprised to find out how much he relied on it in Allied. Many scenes – not just action shots – were filmed on soundstages with blue screen backdrops. It’s mostly convincing, but that air of authenticity does seem to get lost in the process.
While Allied lacks a certain je ne sais quoi to keep it from true greatness, it pushes so many other buttons well that it all adds up to a very enjoyable two hours. My advice: avoid all summaries, trailers, and reviews, and prepare for a surprisingly good popcorn thriller.
Movie Score: 7.5 out of 10
Audio & Video
With sublime sunsets, vintage cars, and sweeping desserts, Allied is a very pretty picture. In 1080p, there’s excellent detail and – as Zemeckis made sure of with his soundstage preferences – some exquisite lighting. I’m curious to see how much better it might look in 4K. Did I wince when I found out much of those shots were digitally imposed? A little. By the way, it’s official: Allied has the greatest (only?) sandstorm love scene ever put on film.
The sound is also very good. The film strategically drops in its moments of action, and when they do come they really pack a visceral punch. Gunshots crackle. Even a low-key violent encounter in a phone booth startled me with its oomph. One demerit: I couldn’t make out a few sentences spoken by Cotillard.
A/V Score: 8.0
Packaging, Menus, & Special Features
The first reason I doubted the quality of Allied was the generic title, followed closely by the Blu-ray’s cover art. It really deserved better. A standard cardboard slipcover wraps around the eco-cutout case. A flyer for an UltraViolet digital copy is inside. The menu is a still shot taken from the cover. Again, very basic, but at least it doesn’t play scenes from the movie as you fumble to hit Play.
On the special features front, there’s a satisfying amount (about an hour) of behind-the-scenes featurettes to check out. Be sure to cue up “From Stages to the Sahara: The Production Design of Allied” and “Lights, Pixels, Action! The Visual Effects of Allied.” You’ll be amazed when you see how much Zemeckis relies on blue screens and CGI.
Extras Score: 7.0
With a forgettable title and almost no buzz surrounding it, I didn’t expect much from Allied. But what I got was a stylish, Casablanca-inspired thriller that makes for a very enjoyable watch. If you dig Hitchcock, spy movies, or old-time thrillers, you’ll thoroughly savor it.