Put your hands together and give him a round of applause, ladies and gentlemen! Yes, yes, that’s right. Robert Zemeckis has officially abandoned that creepy motion capture nonsense he was doing for years and is now back to making films with real people and real stories! No more unnatural movements, dead eyes, or unsettling looking characters. Ever since 2012’s Flight, it’s all been real, folks. Real actors, real sets, real props. The man is back in top form. Not that there’s anything wrong with animated films, but ever since Ol’ Bob has returned to live action filmmaking, it’s evident how much a filmmaker can improve when they’re not just focused on the technology they have at hand.

Allied starts off in 1942, following Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) on an assassination mission in Casablanca, French Morocco. He meets his partner Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter, and not only do they complete their mission, but fall madly in love. A year passes, and Max and Marianne have started the perfect life together, with a newborn baby and all. However, this life is thrown upside down when Max is informed by his superiors that Marianne is suspected of being a Nazi spy. Given the task of finding out the truth, Max struggles with the fact that the woman he loves may be a traitor, or that he may not be able to trust his own superior officers.

This is one of those films where a lot of it rests on the prowess of its lead actors. Since we have a romantic thriller here, it’s important for our main characters to feel like they have a natural, developed relationship that hooks you and wants to see them make it through the events. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are perfect, with sizzling chemistry that perfectly plays off each other. Pitt’s calm stoicism provides a nice contrast to Cotillard’s wildly eccentric mannerisms. As the plot thickens and the tensions rise, their true natures begin coming to light. I’ve never really cared for Brad Pitt, but seeing him slowly lose his mind as he goes back and forth with who to trusts made him show some real range I don’t often see from him. I think Pitt is best when he can ham it up with crazy characters, such as in Kalifornia and Inglourious Basterds, but seeing him do so well in an understated role actually somewhat impressed me. The man’s come a long way since, “Ahhhhh, what’s in the box, maaaaaaaan?!?!” The always lovely Cotillard is magnetic, drawing you in not only by her beauty, but her mystery. Although she’s charming and sexy, once more information is divulged, she gradually shows signs that there’s something sinister underneath. You feel like you’re in Pitt’s shoes, questioning every motive of everyone he comes across.

There’s a distinct old Hollywood vibe to the whole affair. Not only does the film start off in the city of Casablanca, but many thematic and visual references are made to the classic 1942 film, as well Star-crossed lovers who fall for each other during an uncertain times, while all outside forces seem to want to keep them apart; all that jazz. The gorgeous cinematography, old fashioned locales, and the fact that Pitt and Cotillard look like they’re plucked right from that era accentuate the classic feeling even more, completely immersing yourself in the world and the characters. Zemeckis, teamed with long time cinematographer collaborator Don Burgess, gives us a gorgeous film. You’re not just captivated by the actors, but also by the excellent directing and editing. Zemeckis is all about those long tracking shots, and we get plenty of those here, as well as other trademarks (such as an homage to the iconic mirror shot from Contact). The inspired directing and gorgeous visuals, paired with precise editing that smoothly guides you through the events, creating a rising feeling of unease as everything unfolds.

While I was completely invested throughout, I couldn’t help but constantly think there were things missing. There is a lot of setup to establish the forthcoming events and relationship between the two characters, and it all happens a bit too fast. Before you know it, our couple is married, has a child, and the events are swiftly set in motion. While the development is necessary, the setup is way too quick and the film would have benefited more with some extra time. A lot of aspects to their relationship seemed underdeveloped and the ending would have held more weight if the main crux of the film had a bit more depth. The ending feeling rushed and somewhat contrived didn’t help either, especially when it suddenly dips into melodrama. Zemeckis is a master of pacing, so even if this pushed three hours, he could have made this work. This feels like a story that would almost work better as miniseries, where every element could get the necessary development.

As some filmmakers get older, they tend to lose grasp about what made them great in the first place. Zemeckis fell off the horse for a little bit during his motion capture ventures, but I’m happy to say that he’s securely back on and back to giving us quality cinema. While I enjoyed Flight and The Walk, Allied seems to be a true return to form from ol’ Bob, delivering us a taught romantic thriller with engaging performances, gorgeous cinematography, and assured direction, all with a constant sense of intrigue and unease. His new films will probably never reach the heights of his classics like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and the Back to the Future trilogy, but that’s just fine. As long as the guy sticks around and keeps making films, I’ll be a happy moviegoer. He’s still got it.

Just please don’t ever let them remake Back to the Future, Bob. Please.


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