Plot: What’s it about?
I was recently watching one of my favorite films, Thelma & Louise. It’s widely credited with putting a then unknown actor by the name of Brad Pitt, on the map. Pitt, over the course of the last few decades, has certainly made a name for himself with his acting abilities and his off screen shenanigans, but I won’t go there. Yes, he’s been in a few duds, but he’s always chosen his projects carefully and when the curtain finally falls – I’m willing to bet that Mr. Pitt will go down as one of Hollywood’s more memorable actors. Conversely if you look at the career of director Robert Zemeckis, it’s composed of well-known films that simply define pop culture. Forrest Gump or Back to the Future, anyone? Throw in an Oscar winner with Marion Cotillard, set the backdrop against World War II (no Nazi killing this time around) and we’ve got Allied – the true story of how far people will go for both love and war. Intrigued? You should be.
Pitt plays a U.S. intelligence officer, Max Vatan who pairs up with a resistance fighter – Marianne (Marion Cotillard). The fact that the movie begins in Casablanca is an obvious nod to the title film, and if you’re going to tip your hat to a movie – this is about as good as any. Their mission is simple: assassinate the German ambassador. However, there seems to be some chemistry between the two (who are supposed to be married, anyway) and as the two are living the life in England – Max receives some rather interesting news. The news? Marianne may or may not be a German spy, but Max wants to prove her innocence. It’s a cat and mouse game that, had it not been based on a true story, would be very difficult to believe.
When all’s said and done, Allied isn’t a bad movie. It’s not Pitt’s best movie, nor Cotillard’s or Zemeckis’ – but it’s really not a waste of time, either. I rather preferred Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds, but he’s a lot more straight-laced here (as he should be). And he delivers a good performance. Cotillard, I think, is an actress who’s been given credit (winning the Academy Award for La Vie en Rose), but when you’re in a “Brad Pitt” movie – you’ll always play second fiddle to him. Still, historical drams and good ones at that, are a bit hard to come by these days and Zemeckis does well with the film, the CGI and making this nearly unbelievable story – believable.
Video: How’s it look?
Seeing Brad Pitt’s character parachute in and land in the desert is a bit misleading once you see the featurette showing him in a Hollywood soundstage. Why do I mention this? Well Zemeckis really likes his CGI, but to his credit – he knows how and when to use it. Having said that, Allied is one amazing-looking picture from beginning to end. Pitt, now in his 50’s, looks every bit as good as he did a decade ago and by and large these 4K discs don’t do many favors to their stars. This would be an exception. The included 2.40:1 HEVC 4K image is simply flawless from beginning to end. Dark scenes in Casablanca, walking across the desert and interior shots simply have no error. The HDR of the Ultra HD disc really gives some of the scenes a bit more life. Contrast and black levels are rock solid. Either way you go, Blu-ray or 4K you’re in for a treat.
Audio: How’s it sound?
You would assume that a director as technically savvy as Robert Zemeckis would have the “latest and greatest” sound setup for his movie on 4K. You would be mistaken. No, there’s not a DTS X or Dolby Atmos track to be found here, rather both the Blu-ray and 4K versions of the film contain the same DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. Now, that’s not to say that this is bad – not by any stretch of the imagination! There are plenty of opportunities for the film to flex its audio muscle be it gunshots, car tires squealing or anything else associated with a wartime pic. Vocals are strong and precise with the surrounds and LFE both contributing to the general aural pleasure that this soundtrack oozes. It’s a shame that a next generation audio format isn’t present on a next generation video format, but this is by no means a letdown. Far from it.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As is the case with most Ultra HD’s, all of the supplemental material is located on the Blu-ray.
- Story of Allied – The backstory of the movie is spelled out along with a slew of producers, the director (Zemeckis) and stars as they laud praise upon the script.
- From Stages to the Sahara: The Production Design of Allied – Zemeckis explains his thoughts on the production design as being “a character in the film” and romance was at the heart of this one. Some of the more technical aspects were explored here, like not needing to be in Morocco when the movie takes place there…and so on. It’s Robert Zemeckis, so we know he’ll use CGI whenever possible. And he does.
- Through the Lens: Directing with Robert Zemeckis – This is more of an homage to Zemeckis and his body of past work (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Cast Away and so forth) as the cast and producers, namely Graham King, spew forth their abiding passion for the man, myth and legend.
- A Stitch in Time: The Costumes of Allied – Being a period piece, the costume design played nearly as important a role as the physical production itself. We get a pretty candid interview with Joanna Johnston as she tells how she got involved with the project as well as the effort involved to recreate the look and feel of the early 40’s.
- ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Max and Marianne – Both Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are endlessly (but not needlessly) complimented for their work in this film and their work in general. Referred to as “stars of yesteryear”, these two seem to have been born to play these parts.
- Guys and Gals: The Ensemble Cast – Switching gears from the marquee actors to the supporting cast, we get a look at the players in the background who made the movie work. Of note, Jared Harris is profiled and speaks fondly of his role.
- Lights, Pixels, ACTION! The Visual Effects of Allied – Again, this is Robert Zemeckis and we know that he’ll likely use any technical trick available in one of his movies. But…he does it well and for that we forgive him. A few of the more “practical” effects are profiled here as well as some you might not think are CGI – are!
- Behind the Wheel: The Vehicles of Allied – The cars in the film are profiled not only for their usability, but also for historical accuracy. Some information about the particular look of a car, its place in a scene or even a city, relays the importance of these vehicles.
- Locked and Loaded: The Weapons of Allied – Similar to the cars, are the weapons. Naturally you can’t have a war movie without some guns and ammunition, so we’re given the inside look at some of the weapons used in the film and their importance therein.
- That Swingin’ Sound: The Music of Allied – Composer Alan Silvestri is profiled for his work and he tells us of the importance of the sound, score and the music of this picture as well as every historical piece.
The Bottom Line
Allied has something in it for just about everyone. It’s got great production design, the attention to detail is amazing and Pitt and Cotillard both turn in great performances. I found it a bit slow at times, but the eventual pay off (difficult as it was to see coming) just about made up for it. Paramount’s 4K disc looks amazing and sounds nearly as good. Fans should pick up a copy, but the rest will serve best with a rental.