Allied is the most Hitchcockian film to come out in a long time. It’s a master class in suspense and tension, gently ratcheting up the simmering conflict until it becomes unbearable. It’s the kind of film you watch breathlessly, not realizing how engrossed you are in the moment until it gives you enough space to catch your breath again.
My biggest complaint with this film isn’t about the film itself but its marketing. For those who haven’t seen the trailer, please quit reading and go see the film. Trust me. It’ll be worth experiencing blind. For those who’ve seen the trailer and the film, you’re likely to know the problem: the twist is given away.
A solid chunk of the film takes place in Casablanca as American spy Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) teams up with French spy Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) to assassinate a high-profile ambassador. However, they fall in love on the job and go back to London, get married, and have a child.
The twist, the one the trailer gives away, is that British intelligence suspects Marianne might be a German spy. They task Max with leaking false information to see if she is indeed a spy. It begins a gut-wrenching quest to discover the truth and find out if his marriage is real or a sham.
And once the film gets to that moment, everything kicks up in high gear. Every moment before becomes suspect and a long-running debate they had in Casablanca is seen in a new light. Max says he doesn’t have sex on the job because it will screw you up. Marianne says it isn’t sex, but feelings that screw you up. Did Max let feelings get the better of him? Is she truly a spy?
And while the story makes for a gripping tale, it’s the filmmaking that makes this a magnificent, thrilling watch. The most notable feature is the sound design. The film is filled with these quiet, tense moments as it lets the stillness of the moment become uneasy and upsetting. Simply sucking sound out of a moment is enough to ratchet up the suspense.
Also noteworthy is the composition and editing of the film. Sequences are built to slowly build, giving these drawn out moments where everything hangs on a wire. The simple way a shot is framed or lingered upon ratchets up the conflict bit by bit until the moment either dissipates or explodes.
Knowing the twist to the film going in, the impact of the film was diminished. It’s still an impeccably crafted film, but that emotional payoff from the twist was just something to get to instead of a sucker punch in the gut. The film is still an emotional roller-coaster, but it would have been a much more memorable experience if the trailer hadn’t spoiled the goods.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing