For sweeping romance with star power and a gripping story, Allied – complete with sub-Casablanca moments – could learn a lot from A United Kingdom
Allied (15) **
A United Kingdom (15) ****
Paterson (15) ****
Creepy (15) ****
In the honking new Second World War nostalgia fest Allied, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard find themselves at the centre of not just one but two of the most risible scenes of the year. The first occurs shortly after this espionage-tinged romantic drama attempts to align itself with Casablanca by setting the action in the French Moroccan port and kitting Pitt out in a Bogart tux. It’s 1942 and Pitt’s airman Max Vatan has just been parachuted in to pose as the husband of Cotillard’s Marianne Beauséjour, a resistance legend who’s been assigned to help him assassinate the German ambassador. Before they get down to business, however, the high-stakes nature of the mission overcomes them and they get down to business themselves, going at it hell-for-leather in a car while a sandstorm rages outside. Director Robert Zemeckis indulges his own passion for screamingly obvious symbolism here, spinning his camera around their bodies to mimic the swirling sands engulfing their car just as their emotions are engulfing their lives. It’s hilariously tacky and Zemeckis reinforces his melodramatic approach with the film’s second heroically awful scene, set nine months later.
This time we’re in London in the middle of the Blitz and the child conceived in that sirocco-enhanced sexual congress is about to be born when a bomb destroys the hospital, forcing Max to wheel Marianne, now his wife, into the street on her bed so their daughter can be delivered amid collapsing buildings, air-raid sirens and the Luftwaffe flying overhead. The whole thing plays like an unintentional parody of those stiff-upper-lipped propaganda films of the 1940s, albeit rendered with expensive special effects that look as fake in this context as rear-projection does to modern eyes. Unfortunately Zemeckis is so enamoured with crafting tricksy, digitally enhanced shots like these that the human drama supposedly at the film’s centre can’t help but seem as moribund as those dead-eyed, performance-captured animation movies (Polar Express, Beowulf) he tried to pioneer a few years ago.
By the time the plot finally does get going with the revelation that Marianne might actually be an undercover Nazi spy, Zemeckis has already spent so long fruitlessly trying to convince us of the non-existent chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard it’s hard to care. They’re like automatons simulating a pre-programmed idea of raw passion. Consequently there’s zero tension as Max desperately tries to prove Marianne’s innocence while an obvious trap designed to reveal her guilt is put in place by the British intelligence services. Further egging on the earlier Casablanca comparisons, the film builds to a showdown in an airfield where self-sacrifice is the order of the day. Alas, the only thing it leaves you pondering is whether Pitt and Cotillard regret climbing on board such a ludicrous star vehicle. Maybe they will. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon…
A United Kingdom, on the other hand, refashions the traditional 1940s period drama in a more subtly interesting way. Dramatising a forgotten chapter of Britain’s colonial history, Amma Asante’s third film turns the post-war political furore surrounding the 1947 interracial marriage between Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams into a timely issue movie that has the sweep and grandeur of an old-fashioned love story. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike play the star-crossed lovers: he’s an African prince studying law in London; she’s a typist who shares his love of music. But as Seretse soon confesses to Ruth, he is also heir to the throne of what is now Botswana. When they get married and plan a return to his homeland – then called Bechuanaland – they find themselves confronted by prejudice that ranges from blatant racism in the street to institutionalised racism within the British establishment. Building on her 2013 arthouse hit Belle, Asante smartly filters the political ramifications through her protagonists’ relationship and Oyelowo and Pike generate so much heartfelt chemistry it never feels preachy. The result is absorbing mainstream cinema, a great story told with craft and flair.
Jim Jarmusch’s new film Paterson is his best in a decade. A deadpan delight, it stars Adam Driver as a kindly bus driver eponymously named for his hometown, which also just happens to be the birthplace of the poet William Carlos Williams, a fact Jarmusch uses as inspiration for Paterson’s own interest in capturing the beauty of everyday life in form-challenging verse. Like a good poem, the film is meticulously constructed, stripped of unnecessary verbiage, but full of quietly beautiful observations that are reinforced by Driver’s humane performance – particularly as Paterson is tested by the dead-end nature of his job, the artistic aspirations of his loving but talentless girlfriend (Golshifteh Farahani), and the passive-aggressive hostility of her English pitbull.
It’s been a while since there’s been a gripping serial killer movie, but Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s new film Creepy more than lives up to its title. After being injured in the line of duty, Detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) relocates to suburbia with his wife to take up a new position in academia. But it’s not long before his old and new lives start to converge as he begins consulting on a cold case for a former colleague that may just have something to do with his strange new neighbour (played with skin-crawling efficiency by Masahiro Higashide). Contrived as it sounds, Kurosowa is a master of building atmosphere and, unlike his last film, the Cannes-feted Journey to the Shore, Creepy allows him to exploit that atmosphere in a compelling way, delivering a thriller that’s genuinely unsettling. ■