With the holidays upon us you’ll typically notice the quality and seriousness of new releases increases. One of those films, Allied, looks like that dramatic film which will go far during awards season and do well at the box office. It has a well-known and accomplished director at the helm, Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump), has a recognizable cast which includes Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, and also has a proven screenwriter in Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke). With such high-caliber talent involved, this WWII romance-spy epic should do well… should. Allied, though, comes up short as it’s proof that amassing some of the best Hollywood has to offer isn’t always a recipe for success.

Pitt co-stars as Canadian intelligence agent Max Vatan, and he is sent to Morocco to assassinate a Nazi officer. He arrives in Morocco under the ruse that he’s visiting his “wife,” Marianne Beausejour. Beausejour is a French resistance fighter and she uses her knowledge of the country and their customs to train Vatan to blend in so that they can accomplish their mission. They end up falling in love and, after they complete their dangerous task, relocate to London where Max and Marianne marry and begin a family. All is not well, though, as Max is informed of a terrible secret involving Marianne, one which will change their lives forever.

Considering Zemeckis is responsible for Allied, the film looks good. On a budget of $85 million the production values are high, which includes nice cinematography (Don Burgess), a strong score (Alan Silvestri) and flawless costumes (Joanna Johnston). So from a technical standpoint Allied is excellent.

Where the film suffers is with the script. The story is good enough, and from the trailer this looks to be an epic wartime romance in the mold of old Hollywood. But as the film progresses it’s evident that there isn’t enough substance to bring about any true emotion onscreen and reel in audiences.

Pitt and Cotillard are both solid actors and there is some chemistry there. But seeing them banter back and forth about how they conduct their missions and how a married couple should act in a place like Casablanca doesn’t lend much towards romance. Max is very stoic, and doesn’t allow his emotions to show, and thus he comes off as very cold. Marianne is supposed to be the opposite – she uses her emotions to sell herself, and she proclaims early on to Max that that is the reason why she’s been able to survive. She’s genuine, even if she’s lying. But neither spy every truly opens up to each other – the only glimpse of a connection is a tryst that occurs during a sandstorm. After that Max asks Marianne to marry him – not 5 minutes after they’ve accomplished their mission.

That poor setup makes it tough to garner any emotion during the film’s second half, which shows the couple living together in London and with an infant daughter. Max is still is tough, silent self, yet he flies off the handle a little when his superior, Frank Heslop (Jared Harris), and a Special Operations Executive official (Simon McBurney) reveal to him their suspicions and task him with a conflict-of-interest mission. It is inconsistent with what we’ve seen from Max so far, but considering the reveal it makes some sense.

From a special effects perspective, Allied is scaled-down, and that may have hurt Zemeckis’ direction. Zemeckis doesn’t rely solely on effects to sell his story but recently effects have been the only given with his most recent work. Zemeckis directed The Walk, which gloriously depicted a man walking a tightrope between NYC’s two towers, while Flight boasts one of the most spectacular plane crashes on film. Allied didn’t have that to rely on and the effect that were apparent didn’t look all that spectacular.

In all, Allied is all style with no substance. Pitt and Cotillard put forth good performances and share some chemistry, but they’ve both done better. Zemeckis did well from a technical perspective but wasn’t able to add any depth to his latest. And Knight has definitely done better as his script didn’t cover enough ground to elicit the emotions he was hoping for. This one is so-so, and any scant rumors of this garnering any Oscar recognition can be put to rest. This one can’t decide if it wants to be an ode to old Hollywood or if it should be an up-to-date look at war and love. At the same time, Allied bears too close a resemblance to Mr. and Mrs. Smith (the Doug Liman action-comedy which, ironically, also co-stars Pitt), but Zemeckis’ latest brings no humor or charm to the table. It’s a shame this is such a disappointment because the talent is there - it simply didn’t come together.

2.5 stars out of 5

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