“Allied” movie review

alliedQuite the duplicitous plot! Robert Zemeckis’ Allied released by Paramount Pictures is a thrilling tale of espionage and love. We have certainly seen a few different “spy” movies over the last couple of years; some more about espionage and others more about the drama that ensues afterwards. Fortunately, Allied feels like a genuine spy movie that actually contains espionage. The production design and costumes are a beautiful throwback to the fabulous 40s. You’ll find yourself reaching for a glass of champagne and swing dancing to Benny Goodman’s timeless big band jazz hit Sing, Sing, Sing. There is one city synonymous with WWII, espionage, and romance and you will appropriately return to that iconic city of Casablanca in Allied. This is definitely not a reimagined Casablanca but there are indirect references to that movie sprinkled throughout this new story. Films like this one require top notch talent, and both Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard deliver outstanding performances to accompany this staple in film genres. Not limited to the love story between Pitt’s and Cotillard’s respective characters, the movie also includes some deadly shootout scenes and dangerously close encounters with the Nazis behind enemy lines.

Commander and intelligence officer Max Vatan (Pitt) is stationed in the famous city of Casablanca in French Morocco where he teams up with French resistance movement leader Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard). Impressed by her ability to so effectively blend in and create her authentic cover, Vatan soon finds himself falling in love with his partner. Following the assassination of a Nazi ambassador, Beausejour and Vatan flee to London to start their life together. Everything is going beautifully for the happy couple in their second year of marriage with a child when Vatan’s superiors confront him with the suspicion that Marianne is in fact a Nazi spy. Refusing to believe it to be true, Max must now conduct his own investigation into his wife’s history to protect the ones he loves so dearly.

I absolutely adored the look and feel of the film as it echoes the era of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although this movie plays off a tad listless as a result of failing to elicit a strong emotional response from the audience, it is not without it outstanding elements. It benefits from solid acting and beautiful cinematography as well as some fantastic symbolism. Robert Zemeckis’ talent for visual storytelling is clearly visible in this period film. The weakness in the ability to successfully leave a lasting emotional impact on the audience is in the writing and executive producership of Steven Knight (Eastern Promises). For films that are not as much about the spectacle as they are the drama between characters and the challenges faced therein, it is vitally important that the personal/interpersonal relationships transcend the screen and directly impact the audience. All the makings were there for a deeply moving cinematic story, but it just doesn’t quite make that transition from the mostly superficial and distant.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…(interesting fun fact: this misquoted line from Snow White is actually “magic mirror on the wall”). But, I digress. The strategic use of mirrors is an  incredible use of visual storytelling and symbolism. For those who have studied film or literary rhetoric, the mirror is a classic means of conveying duplicity (two sides, faces, etc of a character). Even without knowing that this was a spy movie, I would have been able to infer that from how the mirrors are shot and placed within the composition of the 24 frames a second. When using powerful symbolism as part of the visual story, it conveys so much more meaning in a scene than words could actually describe. Mirrors have long sense been a powerful metaphor even before moving pictures. But motion pictures allow for a greater use of the importance it plays in a cinematic story. Not limited to duplicity, mirrors can also be used as a metaphor for self-reflection. Whether talking duplicity or reflection, the mirror aids in conveying so much to the audience in this movie.

Ordinarily, I am not a fan of classic films getting remakes; however, there are always exceptions when the core or essence of the film is held in tact but the production design, direction, and cinematography are brought up to speed with contemporary cinema. If you’re a fan of WWII era films or the timelsss spy movie, then you will definitely enjoy Allied. After witnessing the significance of Casablanca in this movie, I am actually looking forward to a remake if there ever is one. Provided. That the overall look and feel of the movie is in line with classical motion picture storytelling. I could definitely see Robert Zemeckis directing a remake of Casablanca. Occasionally there are directors who can strike the balance between a classic tale told through contemporary technology, and Zemeckis definitely struck that balance in Allied.

Don’t allow the weak writing to dissuade you from watching it; there is actually a lot to enjoy in this film. After the slow burn during the first act, acts II and III are full of intrigue and suspense.

“Pawn Sacrifice” movie review

Pawn_SacrificeOf chess and men. Pawn Sacrifice is based on the true story of chess prodigy Robert “Bobby” Fischer and his quest to become the world’s greatest chess player. The game at the center of the movie takes place during the height of the cold war against the USSR. Director Edward Zwick crafts a gripping story complete with beautiful cinematography and a brilliant cast. Toby Maguire brings a neurotic charisma and acute anger to the infamous chess player that few could have done so successfully while staying true to the real life Bobby Fischer. Although watching a chess game sounds like it would make for a dreadfully boring and static story, screenwriter Steven Knight (et al) provides a screenplay reeling with intense psychological “chess” moves while remaining focussed on the game that “captured” the eyes of the world. Not surprisingly, the pretentious and unrevealing title kept general audiences from watching it, even though it was initially released during the autumn movie graveyard of September. If there was ever a mystery as to why Fischer’s mental stability greatly suffered as a result of the tournament, this movie sheds light on the obsessive compulsive struggles of a man who was focussed on beating the Soviets at their own game.

American and world-renown chess legend Bobby Fischer faces his greatest challenge yet: the world’s best chess grandmaster Soviet Boris Spassky. From the time he was 12 years old, Fischer began to capture the attention of the chess community of New York and soon the whole country. It was clear that Fischer was truly a prodigy who was destined for greatness in the strategic calculating game. In addition to having a brilliant mind for planning, predicting, and observation, he equally suffered because of his strength. Finding it nearly unbearable to tolerate anything that even slightly aggravated him, Fischer became as notorious as he was talented. Representing the United States, Fischer sees this as a strategic opportunity to outsmart and beat the Soviets, as the game is symbolic of the actual cold war that both countries were involved in. Follow his personal journey of triumph and defeat as he must play the most important game of his life with millions of people watching–some wanting him to succeed while others want him to fail.

The greatest strength in this bio pic is that it takes an otherwise boring game to watch; and creates an atmosphere of intrigue and suspense that parallels both the Cold War itself and the personal/interpersonal relationships between Fischer and his staff, family, and the public. What’s even more astonishing is that this somewhat fictional counterpart to the documentary on Bobby Fischer was able to be sourced for a feature-length narrative film. Unlike the documentary, Pawn Sacrifice goes back to the childhood and adolescent years of the prodigy in order for the audience to make a better connection with his character than can typically be done in a documentary. While the famous 21-match game takes up nearly half the screen time, there is still sufficient material, focussing on the development of Fischer, that it creates an atmosphere that draws you into the game in the latter half of the movie. Although the movie is about Fischer and chess, the degree to which Fischer shows dedication, immense passion, and uncompromising intellect can serve to make a connection with anyone who is passionate about a lifelong dream or aspiration.

One of the elements of Fisher’s upbringing that played a huge role in his anti-communistic paranoia is his mother’s communist activism. Sadly, that part of his life is merely touched upon and not explored very much. Spending more time on his mother’s activism and his hatred of anything remotely communistic could have provided more support for his bizarre behaviors during the tournament against the Soviets. While Fischer is at the center of the movie, he has two excellently written side kicks: (1) a patriotic attorney who attempts to keep Fischer on the right track as an American symbol and (2) a chess grandmaster priest who coached Fischer when he was younger and one of the only players to ever beat him. The character dynamics make the group intriguing to watch. Each so very different, but require the other in order to journey towards the chess world championship. It took amazing determination and long-suffering resilience to attempt to contain the unpredictable and extremely temperamental Bobby Fischer.

If you are looking for a movie to inspire you to be a better chess player, then you may be a little disappointed because you will see much more slapping of the time clocks than the movement of the pieces on the board; however, Zwick does cinematically work in some movements and strategy into the diegesis of the film. Thankfully the movie is shot beautifully and possesses an excellent pacing with strong diegetic structure. There is also some wonderful production and set design that will likely get overlooked since the game is really the focus and mostly occurs in very nondescript rooms. Pawn Sacrifice highlights one of the most famous chess games in all of modern history while getting a glimpse into the mind of a genius turned expat in the end.